Public Open Space

Public Open Space

Providing a well distributed network of walkable attractive and public open spaces and natural areas within the neighbourhood answers a variety of recreational, sporting, play and social needs of the community.

  1. Source: Giles-Corti B, et al. Increasing walking: How important is distance to, attractiveness, and size of public open space? American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2005;28(2, Supplement 2):169-76.
  2. Source: Hartig T, et al (1991). Restorative Effects of Natural Environment Experiences. Environment and Behaviour. 23(1):3-26.
  3. Source: Pereira, G., et al. (2012). “The association between neighborhood greenness and cardiovascular disease: an observational study.” BMC Public Health 12: 466.
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Defining 'Public Open Space'

The term public open space is an over-arching concept that encompasses a variety of spaces within the urban environment that are readily and freely accessible to the wider community, regardless of size, design or physical features and which is intended primarily for amenity or recreation purposes – whether active or passive. [1]

Throughout the physical activity literature however, the use of the term has generally referred to all areas of land reserved for the provision of green space (sometimes called ‘green infrastructure') and natural environments (e.g. parks, reserves, bushland) and intended for use for recreation purposes (active or passive) by the general public. 


The terms ‘parks’ and ‘public open space’ are often used interchangeably throughout the physical activity literature.  However, studies focussed on examining the associations of public open space with physical activity have generally been focused around ‘parks’, referring to areas typically designed for a range of different leisure or recreational needs – both active and passive.  These included landscaped, ornamental and manicured gardens or parks and playgrounds as well as publicly accessible (i.e. free to use) sports fields and ovals.  

Parks have tended to be classified as either active or passive spaces.  Active spaces typically provide for more formal recreational pursuits and organised sporting activities (e.g., ovals, soccer pitches).  Active spaces within parks may also be hard non-green spaces, such as basketball and tennis courts which are important facilities for physical activity and exercise.  Passive public open spaces often refer to areas with features such as lawns, trees, landscaped gardens and shrubbery, lakes, fountains, picnic areas, seating and/or walking trails that promote less active or lighter physical activities, or as places for gathering and socialising. 

Plazas, pazas, squares etc

These refer to paved open pedestrian spaces commonly found at the heart of a town centre.  These provide important gathering places and important spaces for a range of activities, public interactions and the development and enhancement of community cohesion and social capital. [1] Whilst activities undertaken in piazzas and squares do not normally promote vigorous physical activity they are an important aspect of urban fabric and community wellbeing. 

Public spaces for physical activity & health

Parks and other areas of public open space provide local destinations for people to walk and cycle to and be active in; provide exposure to nature which can be restorative and positive mental health benefits; and places for social interaction which is critical for creating and maintaining community cohesion and building social capital. For children and young families, parks provide a place to meet and to participate in physical and social play.  The provision of public open spaces is thus a key factor in promoting active living and providing important physical, psychological and social health benefits for individuals and the community.