Background: Looking out on and being in the green elements of the landscape around us seem to affect health, well-being and feelings of social safety. This article discusses the design of a research program on the effects of green space in the living environment on health, well-being and social safety.
Methods/design: The program consists of three projects at three different scales: at a macro scale using data on the Netherlands as a whole, at an intermediate scale looking into the specific effect of green space in the urban environment, and at micro scale investigating the effects of allotment gardens. The projects are observational studies, combining existing data on land use and health interview survey data, and collecting new data through questionnaires and interviews. Multilevel analysis and GIS techniques will be used to analyze the data.
Discussion: Previous (experimental) research in environmental psychology has shown that a natural environment has a positive effect on well-being through restoration of stress and attentional fatigue. Descriptive epidemiological research has shown a positive relationship between the amount of green space in the living environment and physical and mental health and longevity. The program has three aims. First, to document the relationship between the amount and type of green space in people's living environment and their health, well-being, and feelings of safety. Second, to investigate the mechanisms behind this relationship. Mechanisms relate to exposure (leading to stress reduction and attention restoration), healthy behavior and social integration, and selection. Third, to translate the results into policy on the crossroads of spatial planning, public health, and safety. Strong points of our program are: we study several interrelated dependent variables, in different ordinary settings (as opposed to experimental or extreme settings), focusing on different target groups, using appropriate multilevel methods.