Blue space

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In urban planning and design, blue space or blue infrastructure refers to all the areas which have bodies of water or water courses (that is lakes, rivers, and bays). Together with greenspace (parks, gardens and the like), it allows to lower the temperature in the city (called urban heat island).[1]

Many cities have waterbodies. Very often, these waterbodies have been important in the history of the city. One such example is the River Thames in London.[2]

Accessible blue spaces can help revitalize neighborhoods. It can also promote the people feeling like they belong together.[3] Examples of such project are the Chattanooga Waterfront (Chattanooga, Tennessee), the CityDeck in Green Bay, Wisconsin, or the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City.[4] Festivals at the waterfront also help promote this feeling.

Neighborhoods with access to attractive natural features often have the problem of gentrification, people with more money, a better education or a higher social class will move in, and lead to a price increase. For this reason, the social benefits associated with waterbodies are often not distributed equally. Normal neighborhoods and poorer ones often do not have access to good quality blue spaces.[5]

Health benefits of blue spaces[change | change source]

Living close to water bodies carriessome risks, such as water-borne diseases in drinking water,[6] flooding risks, [7]or drowning. Scientific evidence shows that exposure to blue spaces is also associated with different health benefits to those near water bodies.[8][9] One of the mechanisms by which this phenomenon can be explained is by the Biophilia hypothesis developed by Edward O. Wilson. This theory states that humans have developed a strong connection with nature throughout their evolution: This leads them to subconsciously seek natural environments, including green and blue spaces.Recent research has identified three main way that can help explain why living close to green and blue spaces can be beneficial to health.

  • Mitigation addresses these health benefits and looks at the physical improvements that natural environments bring to the built environment, such as reduction of urban heat island, traffic air pollution or traffic noise.
  • Instoration focuses on the promotion of physical activity and other positive outcomes associated with people being more active and on social connectivity promoted by natural spaces.
  • Restoration explains how the non-threatening characteristics of the natural environments reduce negative feelings and increase cognitive restoration.[10]

Effects of blue spaces on physical health[change | change source]

Increased physical activity[change | change source]

Different studies have found that people who live near coastal areas are more likely to practice a form of physical activity that is healthy.[11] This has been explained by the fact that there are walking paths along the coast, that can be used. Another explanation is that blue spaces have aestethical attributes (they 'look good') which may motivate people to practice a physical activity near or on the water.[12] Having a body of water close by is not enough to motivate people to be physically active: These bodies of water need to be accessible. A study that focused on teenagers found that those living near beaches that had a major road between their homes and the water body had lower levels of physical activity than those with a direct access to the beach.[13]

Reduced obesity[change | change source]

As outlined above, the presence of blue spaces may lead to people being physically more active. A study found that people who lived far from green spaces or a waterfront in an urban area have a higher risk of developing obesity.[14]

Better breathing[change | change source]

People who have conditions that affect breathing (such as asthma) can improve their quality of life when they move closer to a body of water. This could be explained by the mists and sprays generated by the water movement. [15] Another study that measured the impact in health of green and blue spaces for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) had similar findings.[16]

Effects of blue spaces on mental health[change | change source]

Better overall mental health[change | change source]

Researchers found a reduction of psychiatric cases on people living near green or coastal areas.[17] Some of the studies found that ocean exposure or running along river helped war veterans suffering from PTSD. Others found that practising water-related activities such as surfing can help coping with mental health issues and help develop self-confidence and self-reliance skills.

Better mood and happiness[change | change source]

Exposure to blue spaces is also linked to increased happiness. A group of researchers studying the effect of green and blue spaces on happiness used a mobile app to track feelings of people when they were near water landscapes. The researchers found that people were happier near water bodies. [18] Consistently with the findings focusing on physical health, the positive effects on mood associated to blue spaces seem to diminish as the distance between the residence and the water increases. [19]

Improved recovery from drug and alcohol addiction[change | change source]

It was shown that pratising a common activity in blue spaces, for example sailing, had a positive effect on people doing drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Blue spaces quality assessment tools[change | change source]

A group of researches has developed a set of tools, to be able to measure the quality and potential health benefits of these blue spaces. The BlueHealth Environmental Assessment Tool (BEAT) - enables comparable assessment of environmental aspects and attributes that influence access to, use of and health-promoting activities in blue spaces. The tool has been developed to be used by communities and urban/landscape designers. [20][21]

See also[change | change source]

References[change | change source]


  1. Gunawardena, K.R.; Wells, M.J.; Kershaw, T. (15 April 2017). "Utilising green and bluespace to mitigate urban heat island intensity". Science of the Total Environment. 584–585: 1040–1055. Bibcode:2017ScTEn.584.1040G. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.01.158. ISSN 0048-9697. PMID 28161043.
  2. Gunawardena, K.R.; Wells, M.J.; Kershaw, T. (2017). "Utilising green and bluespace to mitigate urban heat island intensity". Science of the Total Environment. Elsevier BV. 584–585: 1040–1055. Bibcode:2017ScTEn.584.1040G. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.01.158. ISSN 0048-9697. PMID 28161043.
  3. White, Mathew P.; Elliott, Lewis R.; Gascon, Mireia; Roberts, Bethany; Fleming, Lora E. (1 December 2020). "Blue space, health and well-being: A narrative overview and synthesis of potential benefits". Environmental Research. 191: 110169. Bibcode:2020ER....191k0169W. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2020.110169. ISSN 0013-9351. PMID 32971082.
  4. Gamble, David (2016). Rebuilding the American city : design and strategy for the 21st century core. New York, NY. ISBN 9781138798144.
  5. Schüle, Steffen Andreas; Hilz, Lisa Karla; Dreger, Stefanie; Bolte, Gabriele (4 April 2019). "Social Inequalities in Environmental Resources of Green and Blue Spaces: A Review of Evidence in the WHO European Region". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 16 (7): 1216. doi:10.3390/ijerph16071216. ISSN 1660-4601. PMC 6480666. PMID 30987381.
  6. "WHO | Water-related diseases: information sheets". WHO.
  7. Kaźmierczak, Aleksandra; Cavan, Gina (2011). "Surface water flooding risk to urban communities: Analysis of vulnerability, hazard and exposure". Landscape and Urban Planning. 103 (2): 185-197. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2011.07.008.
  8. Britton, Easkey; Kindermann, Gesche; Domegan, Christine; Carlin, Caitriona (18 December 2018). "Blue care: a systematic review of blue space interventions for health and wellbeing". Health Promotion International. 35 (1): 50–69. doi:10.1093/heapro/day103. ISSN 0957-4824. PMC 7245048. PMID 30561661.
  9. Gascon, Mireia; Zijlema, Wilma; Vert, Cristina; White, Mathew P.; Nieuwenhuijsen, Mark J. (1 November 2017). "Outdoor blue spaces, human health and well-being: A systematic review of quantitative studies". International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. 220 (8): 1207–1221. doi:10.1016/j.ijheh.2017.08.004. ISSN 1438-4639. PMID 28843736. |hdl-access= requires |hdl= (help)
  10. Markevych, Iana; Schoierer, Julia; Hartig, Terry; Chudnovsky, Alexandra; Hystad, Perry; Dzhambov, Angel M.; de Vries, Sjerp; Triguero-Mas, Margarita; Brauer, Michael (1 October 2017). "Exploring pathways linking greenspace to health: Theoretical and methodological guidance". Environmental Research. 158: 301–317. Bibcode:2017ER....158..301M. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2017.06.028. ISSN 0013-9351. PMID 28672128. |hdl-access= requires |hdl= (help)
  11. Bauman, Adrian; Smith, Ben; Stoker, Lyn; Bellew, Bill; Booth, Michael (1999). "Geographical influences upon physical activity participation: evidence of a 'coastal effect'". Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 23 (3): 322–324. doi:10.1111/j.1467-842X.1999.tb01265.x. ISSN 1753-6405. PMID 10388181.
  12. Humpel, Nancy; Owen, Neville; Iverson, Don; Leslie, Eva; Bauman, Adrian (February 2004). "Perceived environment attributes, residential location, and walking for particular purposes". American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 26 (2): 119–125. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2003.10.005. ISSN 0749-3797. PMID 14751322.
  13. Edwards, Nicole Joy; Giles-Corti, Billie; Larson, Ann; Beesley, Bridget (1 July 2014). "The Effect of Proximity on Park and Beach Use and Physical Activity Among Rural Adolescents". Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 11 (5): 977–984. doi:10.1123/jpah.2011-0332. ISSN 1543-5474. PMID 23493147.
  14. Halonen, Jaana I.; Kivimäki, Mika; Pentti, Jaana; Stenholm, Sari; Kawachi, Ichiro; Subramanian, S. V.; Vahtera, Jussi (2014). "Green and blue areas as predictors of overweight and obesity in an 8-year follow-up study". Obesity. 22 (8): 1910–1917. doi:10.1002/oby.20772. ISSN 1930-739X. PMID 24771608.
  15. Gaisberger, Martin; Šanović, Renata; Dobias, Heidemarie; Kolarž, Predrag; Moder, Angelika; Thalhamer, Josef; Selimović, Amina; Huttegger, Isidor; Ritter, Markus (1 October 2012). "Effects of Ionized Waterfall Aerosol on Pediatric Allergic Asthma". Journal of Asthma. 49 (8): 830–838. doi:10.3109/02770903.2012.705408. ISSN 0277-0903. PMID 22861198.
  16. Moitra, Subhabrata; Benet, Marta; Arbillaga-Etxarri, Ane; Marín, Alicia; Barberan-Garcia, Anael; Borrell, Eulàlia; Rodríguez, Diego; Gimeno-Santos, Elena; Balcells, Eva (15 September 2018). "Association between interpersonal and environmental factors and health-related quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)". European Respiratory Journal. 52 (suppl 62): PA1179. doi:10.1183/13993003.congress-2018.PA1179. ISSN 0903-1936.
  17. Alcock, I.; White, M. P.; Lovell, R.; Higgins, S. L.; Osborne, N. J.; Husk, K.; Wheeler, B. W. (1 October 2015). "What accounts for 'England's green and pleasant land'? A panel data analysis of mental health and land cover types in rural England". Landscape and Urban Planning. 142: 38–46. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.05.008. ISSN 0169-2046. |hdl-access= requires |hdl= (help)
  18. MacKerron, George; Mourato, Susana (1 October 2013). "Happiness is greater in natural environments". Global Environmental Change. 23 (5): 992–1000. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.03.010. ISSN 0959-3780.
  19. Brereton, Finbarr; Clinch, J. Peter; Ferreira, Susana (1 April 2008). "Happiness, geography and the environment". Ecological Economics. 65 (2): 386–396. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2007.07.008. ISSN 0921-8009.
  20. Himansu Sekhar Mishra,Simon Bell, Peeter Vassiljev, Friedrich Kuhlmann, Gloria Niin, James Grellier (1 March 2020). "The development of a tool for assessing the environmental qualities of urban blue spaces". Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 49: 126575. doi:10.1016/j.ufug.2019.126575. ISSN 1618-8667.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. Mishra, Himansu Sekhar; Bell, Simon; Grellier, James; White, Mathew P. (2021-03-01). "Testing the reliability and effectiveness of a new tool for assessing urban blue spaces: The BlueHealth environmental assessment tool (BEAT)". Health & Place. 68: 102526. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2021.102526. ISSN 1353-8292. PMID 33610888.