Course:FRST370/2022/Do differences in access to green spaces affect mental health and wellness? A study of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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Summary of Case Study

In this study, we analyze the different factors that surround the access to green spaces that may affect the mental health and wellness of people living in Vancouver. We expand on how the access (or lack thereof) of green spaces can affect mental health in positive or negative ways, by compiling statistics, reviews, discoveries, and research. After examining all the data, it is concluded that even if there are some negative effects to having access to green space on mental health, the positive effects heavily outweigh them. Access to green space is beneficial to mental health and wellness, and lack of green space access is detrimental. We then dive into how Vancouver is affected by these results, and how Vancouver’s affected and interested stakeholders are all linked and affected. Vancouver’s Park Board plans to address green space inequality around the city by creating goals and strategies that will eventually benefit those that need it the most. We also address how we were unable to find anything regarding tenure arrangements, administrative arrangements, and the assessment of relative power that related to our topic. In the future, after the green space equity plan has eventually been put in place, we could see new studies about how much the expansion of green spaces in Vancouver has truly affected its residents.


Green Space

Mental Health






Does having access to green spaces affect the mental health and wellness of people residing within Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada? By analyzing studies conducted in other urban regions, as well as the studies that have been conducted within Vancouver, we determine who are the most affected, and whether or not having access to green spaces play a key role in mental health and wellness for Vancouver residents.


Vancouver is a city that is becoming increasingly more popular due to its sought after real estate, rich history, diverse culture, and natural beauty. That being said, no city is perfect. Vancouver suffers from being considered one of the top 3 most expensive cities in North America, which makes the cost of living for the average citizen extremely difficult [1]. Financial stress is very common and runs rampant in the city of Vancouver, which in turn can lead to a poor mental state by those that are affected. Vancouver's gloomy weather can also play a part in the ways its residents can experience a poor mental state (Vancouver ranks in as the 9th rainiest city in Canada) which can lead to seasonal depression [2]. Vancouver is also a very dense city, accounting for 2.3 million residents. But despite its high population, social isolation was reported as one of the top concerns in 2011 for residents of Vancouver [3]. Social isolation has also been linked to physical and mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression and immune function [3].

A theorized way to combat these feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, is by connecting with nature. "Biophilia" is a hypothesis that suggests that humans possess a desire to connect with nature and other forms of life. Biologist Edward O. Wilson created this theory based on the environment humans originated from, which moulded our brains to react favourably to visual and physical cues that would heighten our chances for survival, such as : trees, savannahs, lakes, and waterways. By visiting green spaces, such as parks, gardens, playgrounds, plazas, and beaches, it gives the visitor the opportunity to reconnect with nature. But does connecting with nature actually have an effect on mental health?

A study using adult monozygotic twins was conducted on if the access to green spaces had an affect on mental health and physical activity. The use of twins was important to this study as they had a similar shared environmental and genetic influences during childhood. This study split up the twins into two separate groups, and exposed one group to access to green spaces, while the other was not. Based on the results, it was concluded that green spaces showed positive improvements to depression and mood, however didn't provide enough evidence to support any clear improvements on stress or anxiety [4]. Another study conducted in 2020 gathered 323 students who averaged around the age of 22, to see if individuals who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic were in a better mental state by having access to green spaces. It was found that looking out windows onto greenery promoted psychological health benefits, such as restorative episodes that promoted healing, psychological restoration, and recovery from stressful events. It was also found that over the course of several months, green window views were shown to increase a person's ability to complete difficult cognitive tasks, such as earning high grades/marks [5]. Another study analyzed the relation of work and green space access. The purpose of this study was to determine whether employees' perceived levels of stress and attitudes toward the workplace are related to the access to green outdoor environments at work. It was conducted based on data from a questionnaire answered by 439 randomly selected individuals in Sweden, and it consisted of three parts which addressed the respondent's background data, the use of urban green spaces, and health status. It found that there was a significant relationship between physical and visual access to workplace greenery, and that there was a positive workplace attitude and decreased level of stress overall [6]. Based on these studies, there is indeed a positive connection between having access to green spaces and mental health. But how exactly does Vancouver as a city specifically hold up?

Vancouver's specific case study investigates how changes in urban design, such as the addition of greenery and colourful crosswalks, affect the sociability, mental health, and environmental stewardship of participants. Urban design interventions in shared or public spaces are considered a possible avenue toward reducing social isolation and its associated health concerns in large metropolitan areas, such as Vancouver. The participants of the study were led on walks through Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood, where they stopped at six sites to indicate their emotional responses and perception of the environment using a smartphone application. The six sites that were visited on the walking tour were a community garden, a formal green space, a rainbow intersection, a standard intersection, a green laneway and a standard laneway. The sites with greenery and colourful, community-driven urban intervention were associated with higher levels of happiness, trust, stewardship and attraction to the sites, as opposed to their more standard comparison sites. This showed that simple urban design interventions, such as increasing greenery, can increase subjective well-being and sociability among city residents [3].

Based on these results, it is confirmed that having access to green spaces, as well as just being exposed to greenery, plays a significant role in provoking good emotional responses, as well as stimulating feelings that would improve mental health and wellness. This is a universal phenomenon that isn't just conformed to Vancouver, but with all the varying factors that surround Vancouver, such as financial stress, social isolation, and a gloomy climate, its important to understand the benefits of taking advantage of Vancouver's natural beauty.

Tenure Arrangements

The majority of plans and strategies for better green equity are interconnected by most, if not all, stakeholders involved. There is documentation of drafts and finalizations of masterplans with clear and orderly goals set in place with necessary steps and objectives, all accessible from government websites. It would be the most efficient for all parties, including agencies, commercial enterprises, and citizens of the city, to collaborate with the common goal to combat green equity and the overall health and well-being of the city.

Affected Stakeholders

Affected Stakeholders


Power and Profit Level

Vancouver Residents in Central City Access to public greenspaces, through urban parks, green infrastructure, pockets parks High Level of Interest

Medium Power

Vancouver Residents outside Central City Access to public greenspaces, parks Medium Level of Interest

Medium Power

Children and Youth Access to public greenspaces in close proximity to homes and schools, Need for greenery for mental development High Level of Interest

Low Power

Interested Stakeholders

Interested Stakeholders


Power and Profit Level

Government Provide policy support, development of green spaces High Level of Profit

High Power

City Planners Develop land use plans and initiatives that help foster interactive communities within green spaces with population growth and remodelling infrastructure High Level of Profit

High Power

Landscape Architects Design layout for enhancement and management of both the natural and built surroundings High Level of Profit

Medium Power

Urban Foresters Maintain city trees by managing the trees located on public land and advocate for the importance of trees in the community Medium Level of Profit

Medium Power

Real Estate Developers Buy, develop, and sell real estate in adjacent areas of green spaces High Level of Profit

High Power

Institutional Investors Buy, sell, and manage financial assests based on green space High Level of Profit

High Power

Tourists Attraction and use of green spaces Low Level of Profit

Low Power


According to recent research by the University of British Columbia, Vancouver is among the least equitable of Canada's major cities regarding green space equity. According to Lorien Nesbitt, an assistant professor in the faculty of forestry at UBC and author of the study claims only one-third of the cities he examined showed links between income and greenness, and Vancouver's was one of the strongest [7]. Vancouver's housing market and green gentrification are fatal combinations for locals wanting to access green space for fundamental necessities.

The Park Board staff created the Parks and Recreation Services Master Plan, the formulation of guiding goals to realize the purposes of the plan, and an implementation plan for putting the strategies into practice. VanPlay was developed in October 2019; the Park Board approved its design and implementation plan. VanPlay gives citizens who typically face barriers to enjoying being in natural surroundings more accessible for all Vancouver residents and will alleviate mental health detriments [8].

The Park Board was able to identify rising discrepancies thanks to an extensive two-year process of community and stakeholder involvement, inventory, and analysis of its park network. By speaking with more than 30,000 locals, a baseline of park resources, assets, and access restrictions was developed. These discussions led to the identification of potential problems in areas including decision-making clarity, cost, and access, as well as the widespread public support for equitable policies. A central goal was to prioritize the delivery of resources to where they are needed most. This goal provides the Park Board personnel with a policy direction that is resistant to changes in elected authorities or political commitment to equity fluctuations [8].

The Park Board staff developed a more in-depth understanding of Vancouver's park inequality through the generation and analysis of comprehensive community data, including the areas with the lowest park space per person and the neighborhoods with the highest demand for low-income recreation programming. The acquisition and mapping of the community data produced creative implementation strategies that specifically aim to lessen these injustices [8].

The idea of adding greenery evenly across Vancouver is not new; it accumulated many years ago. The Five Minute Walk in 2010 is one of these occasions. The Greenest City was a bold initiative that ushered in an all-encompassing, multidisciplinary strategy to make Vancouver the greenest city. The main underlie and goal is all Vancouver residents should be located within a five-minute walk of green space. Although it is a broad and non-comprehensive goal, it established a target that the Park Board would progress in 2019 by promoting equity in Vancouver through greenery access. The Initiative Zones identify places needing extra resources based on limited recreational access, urban forest canopy, and park provision [9].

This action plan is ongoing, and recognition has been in recent years; therefore, the mental health benefit studies are still contemporary and will reveal more concrete evidence in future research.

Critical Issues

An issue present in the urban cities such as Vancouver is social isolation and the problems that arise from it. In 2016, Canada’s three largest metropolitan areas, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, accounted for more than a third of the Canadian population [10]. Despite being home to over 2.3 million people [10], social isolation was reported as one of the top concerns in 2011 for residents of Vancouver [3]. Social isolation has been linked to physical and mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression and immune function [3].

Another issue that needs to be focused on are the downfalls found from exposure to green spaces, first, in some environments, introducing new or more greenspace may lead to a greater spread and higher concentrations of allergenic pollen by trees and herbaceous species, which could raise allergic disease prevalence [11]. This could raise risk to people with severe allergic reactions and would serve as a turn off for some residents to move further away from green spaces or not use them.

As greenspace serves as a habitat for disease vectors (in particular, ticks, mosquitos, rats, cats and dogs), more greenspace could increase the rate of infections [11]. With increased green spaces in cities, mitigation strategies from developers and the government levels to be set out to ensure the maintenance of these greenspaces. Having already set in plans to reduce pests will prevent future damage to the space or residents.

Issues with larger greenspace characterized by restricted opportunities for surveillance can serve as a place for crime [11], or simply, a place feared due to the potential for crime, particularly for vulnerable populations (women, children and the elderly) [11]. With more space open to the public, certain security measures should be taken in to ensure residents feel safe at all times and are encouraged to continue using the space.

Finally, in certain situations, urban greening (e.g. building a new park) may lead to increased property rents and taxes in adjacent areas, which could encourage the displacement of populations with lower socioeconomic status [11]. This is a bigger issue that needs to be dealt with on a multi-government scale level.


Green space in Vancouver comes with its challenges of access especially when different levels of government and other sectors are involved. Provincial government has high power and benefits from green spaces as they provide policy support, and develop the green spaces. With this power the Government is easily influenced by profit gain, leading to greenspace inequality. “Historically, I think that some people have noticed that there was an east-west divide, that part of the issue came into how much it marked the issue of class,” says Andy Yan. Parks with bigger forests are concentrated in more wealthier neighbourhoods towards the west side of the city. We have Stanley Park and Pacific Spirit Regional Park all located towards the west end, two massive parks that provide financial and tourist gain. “The locations of both parks reflect the general pattern of shade inequality that has left lower-income neighbourhoods with reduced canopy cover from less trees, and even fewer that are fully grown enough to provide adequate shade” [12].

The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized these gaps, where many people turned to outdoor spaces for health and wellbeing, where some started to identify the existing inequities in access to green spaces [12].

The Vancouver Park Board also plays a big role in access to green spaces. In 2013, the TreeKeepers program was launched in supports of the goals to expands Vancouver's urban forest. “They offered affordable tree sales in addition to hands-on workshops through a “Citizen Forester” program to help residents plant and maintain their own trees” The efforts were brought in to host cultural events, become better acquainted with trees, and engaging people in the environment [12].

This program brought more access and education to the residents of Vancouver but was stopped in 2015 when the park board pulled its funding and halted their contract for reasons that appeared to be administrative. The park board has since taken over the annual tree sales. Indicating that education and access was not a main priority for the Vancouver Park Board, but revenue was more at interest.

Private inventors play a role in access to green space in Vancouver. Private investors are people who don't live in their properties. Across British Columbia's Lower Mainland, 7 percent of condo apartments are owned by private investors. 46 percent of condos in Vancouver are not owner occupied [13].

Private investors create housing systems that produce units to increase the economy but aren't directed at producing places for people to live. With private investors having control of housing where residents live, there are empty homes leading to unused green spaces. Most of these private invested homes sit in areas of more accumulated wealth, which is also seen to host more parks and public green spaces. Yet in areas with lower socio-economic wealth, we have more residents and less access to green space.


With the issues that come with access to green space there are ways to mitigate to ensure there is an equal opportunity for every resident in Vancouver.

Designing parks in collaboration with residents will ensure their needs are met and their voices are heard. Social isolation is a problem for city residents, where although the city population is high, people don’t have much time for interaction. By creating public green spaces with seating that is available both in the summer and winter climates will encourage residents to use parks yearly. Creating spaces to hold cultural events, with access to amenities will also encourage residents. Designing for safety is also crucial. Woman, children and elderly feel less safe in large public spaces with good reason. One solution is creating sustainable lighting. Lighting up our parks and greenspaces at night will make our parks feel more welcome to use, and walkthrough not just during the day time. Some residents also only have time to use greenspaces after work, which can be late. By having this lighting, working residents will also have opportunities to use these green spaces.

With increased green spaces, animals and wildlife are prone to come up. By hiring more people to work for Vancouver parks, they can ensure maintenance of green spaces are taken care of. Upkeep in cleanliness will help mitigate pest control. Educating the public with information signs about the wildlife will also help in the cleanliness of that park as well as decreasing the fear that comes with wildlife. By providing information residents can live in sync with wildlife and create more of an appreciation for what they have to offer to our environment.

We see a pattern with increased rent prices in areas with new green spaces and public parks and this poses a problem with communities that cannot afford but have the right to access green spaces. By educating the community on the importance of green spaces and hearing out different communities in Vancouver for what they need, developers, government bodies and residents can work together to make green space plans. Governments need to also step in to create funding for green spaces and parks in areas such as the east of Vancouver, where they are in more need of these spaces. By creating funding for green spaces in lower socio-economic areas, countless solutions will arise to helping solve problem surrounding mental health issues and physical health. Simply beautifying green areas and creating spaces for movements will benefit the communities that should be also considered in Vancouver.


  1. Shepert. "Vancouver ranks 3rd most expensive city in North America". Vancouver Is Awesome. Retrieved December 9th,2022. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. City of Vancouver. "Weather in Vancouver". City of Vancouver. Retrieved December 9th,2022. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Negami, H. "Field analysis of psychological effects of urban design: A case study in Vancouver". Cities & Health. 2: 106–115.
  4. Cohen-Cline, H (2014). "Access to green space, physical activity and mental health: a twin study". Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 69: 523–529.
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  7. Griffiths, N (October 2nd, 2022). "Vancouver among least equitable cities for green space: Study". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved December 11th, 2022. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 City of Vancouver (February 11th, 2019). "VanPlay – Draft Strategic Big Moves Parks and Recreation Services Master Plan" (PDF). City of Vancouver. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. City of Vancouver. "VanPlay Strategic Bold Moves - Equity. City of Vancouver" (PDF). City of Vancouver. Retrieved December 11th, 2022. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Statistics Canada". 2017: The year in statistics. 2017.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Markevych, I (2017). "Exploring pathways linking greenspace to health: Theoretical and methodological guidance". Environmental Research. 158: 301–317.
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  13. Gold, K (June 21st, 2019). "Investors own nearly half of Vancouver's condos: SFU's Andy Yan digs into data, saying units that are 'not owner occupied' provide precarious rentals, at best". The Globe and Mail. Check date values in: |date= (help)

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