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Urban Nature for Human Health and Well-Being

Two people running in a park setting next to a bridge going into a city. Alija,

The livability of a town or city is often defined by the availability of parks, forests, gardens, and  other natural settings that support an active lifestyle. Indeed, there is a growing conviction that this “green infrastructure” is as important to prosperous and sustainable communities as roads, trash removal, and other essential services.  

Although research on the relationship between human health and nature is fairly recent, the wide range of scientific studies published on the health benefits of nature over the past 35 years confirms the importance of natural settings to human physical, mental, and social health. Taken as a whole, these studies provide a compelling case for nature in our communities, but until recently there have been few comprehensive resources for interested audiences to draw from.

A new 2018 report by the USFS National Urban Forest Technology and Science Delivery Team summarizes the most current research related to nature and public health, providing a resource to help natural resource professionals, health professionals, urban planners, architects, educators, and community groups effectively communicate the health benefits of nature to their constituents. The report provides an overview of the current research in five key areas: pollution and physical health, active living, mental health, stress reduction, and social health, community cohesion, and resilience, and discusses issues of social equity and access to nature in urban environments.  View our report on urban nature for human health and well-being (PDF - 11MB) to learn more about our work communicating the health benefits of urban trees and green space.

The report can be accessed also on the Vibrant Cities Lab, an innovative multi-faceted web platform that can help professionals, policymakers, planners and the public access the best available science, understand the value of investing in our urban and community forests, and take concrete steps to and build better, more effective and efficient urban and community forestry programs.

Checkout our related webinars on:
Urban Forests for Human Health and Wellness
Studying the impact of trees and green space on cardiovascular health

Related Forest Service Websites

  • Urban vegetation and its management can significantly influence human health and environmental quality in and around cities. Forest and community managers need accurate information on the urban forest resource, how it is changing, and the ecosystem services it provides. To this end, the Forest Service (USFS) has a research work unit focused on urban forests, environmental quality and human health. More »
  • The USFS Philadelphia Field Station is working with partners from the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to explore the relationship between urban green space and human health and safety. More »
  • The USFS partners with the University of Washington to maintain Green Cities: Good Health, a website that pulls together 40 years of research showing how the experience of nature improves human health, well-being, and resilience. More »
  • The Healthy Trees, Healthy People (HtHp) program at Portland State University aims to find canopy designs that most effectively improve the public's health. With support from the USFS, an interdisciplinary research team collaborated to quantify the health benefits of the urban forest and its role in addressing air pollution and urban heat islands. The HtHp program is assisting urban forestry programs by providing an online mapping tool that identifies planting locations where cities can see the greatest public health benefit. More »
  • The Forest Service provides information and decision tools to help communities manage their trees as part of the broader urban-to-rural landscape, articulate the value of their urban forest resource, and learn from active stewardship groups and their networks. This information is foundational for smart growth and resilience planning that seeks to improve public health and the quality of the urban environment. More »