1. This report presents findings from the 2009 Scottish Social Attitudes survey on 3 key questions:
- What are the key factors that people in Scotland think makes somewhere a good place to live?
- What is the role of greenspace in particular in making somewhere a place people want to live?
- What is the relationship between perceptions of greenspace in the local area and health, subjective well-being and social trust?
It also explores what people think about their local greenspace and how they use it.
2. The Scottish Social Attitudes survey involves c. 1,500 interviews annually, with respondents selected using random probability sampling to ensure that the results are robust and representative of the Scottish population. The 2009 survey, which was conducted between April and September 2009, involved face-to-face interviews and a self-completion questionnaire.
What do people think about their local area?
3. The general ambience of an area is of central importance to people in Scotland in making somewhere a good place to live. 50% of people mentioned the area being 'quiet and peaceful' as either the first or second most important feature in making somewhere a good place to live. Factors relating to the attractiveness of the area (19%), availability of local services (17%) and public transport (15%) were the next highest priorities.
4. There was little consensus in terms of what people said was most in need of improvement in their local area. However, there was a tendency for people to prioritise the provision of services and factors relating to economic conditions: for example, 22% of people mentioned the availability of good jobs locally as either the first or second thing most in need of improvement. Factors relating to greenspace or the ambience of the local area were less commonly mentioned as needing improvement.
5. There were clear differences in priorities for improvement locally by income and deprivation. People in low income households and in the most deprived areas were more likely than those with higher incomes and in less deprived areas to prioritise making their area more quiet and peaceful, improvements to the cleanliness of the streets and improvement to the quality of places for children to play. People on higher incomes and in the least deprived areas were more likely to want to see improvements in public transport and to traffic levels.
6. The majority of people in Scotland think that their area is either very good or quite good for cycling (58%) with only 17% thinking it was either quite or very bad. A higher proportion, three-quarters, agreed that their local area is nice to walk around in, while 85% feel good about how easy their area is to get around on foot.
7. People were asked to rate their level of satisfaction with their local area as a place to live on a scale from 0 to 10. Over half (56%) of people in Scotland rated their level of satisfaction as 8 or above: the mean score was 7.3 and the most commonly chosen rating was 8.
8. Below average levels of satisfaction with people's local area as a place to live were particularly associated with (in descending order of strength of association):
- feeling that an area is not nice to walk around in
- living in the most deprived 20% of areas
- having a household income in the lowest 20% of incomes
- regular experience of graffiti and vandalism in the local area
- regular experience of noise from neighbours/parties in the local area
- having a low level of trust in local people
- feeling bad about the availability of green and pleasant places to walk or sit locally.
9. Feeling disempowered, unable to do anything about making improvements in the local area, is also linked to feeling dissatisfied with the local area as a place to live. 39% of those who agreed or agreed strongly that it is difficult for them to improve their area were dissatisfied with their area compared with only 15% of those who disagreed or disagreed strongly. Those who feel disempowered to make changes to their local area were more likely to be young or old (rather than middle-aged), to have low levels of trust of others, to be social renters and not to be qualified to degree-level.
What do people think about local greenspace?
10. Features that require active management of public greenspace, such as being well maintained, and having play facilities, lighting and security and good paths, were chosen more often as important factors in making a good local park or greenspace compared with factors relating to the overall ambience of the area, such as having lots of plants, trees or flowers, being peaceful and having attractive views.
11. People living in the most deprived areas of Scotland were more likely than those in less deprived areas to think that good lighting and security is the most important feature of a good local park or greenspace: 38% in the most deprived areas chose this, compared with 21% in the least deprived areas. People with no qualifications and those living in the most deprived areas were also more likely to think that it is important for a good park to be easy to get to on foot.
12. Just over half of people in Scotland (52%) visit their local greenspace once a week or more often but 15% never visit their local greenspace at all. Those who never visit their local greenspace were more likely to have no qualifications, live in flats, be social renters and live in the most deprived areas. Over 3 times as many people in the most deprived areas of Scotland never visit their local greenspace compared with people in the least deprived areas (29% compared with 8%).
13. Previous research has shown that for people to use their greenspace regularly they ideally need to live within a 5 minute walk of such greenspace. SSA 2009 found that there was indeed a strong association between distance to greenspace and how often people use it. It showed that half of those who live less than a 5 minute walk away from their local greenspace visit it more than once a week, compared with only 16% of those who live more than a 10 minute walk away.
14. SSA 2009 shows that two-thirds of people do live within a 5 minute walk of their local green or open space. However, this varies between different types of areas. In the most deprived areas of Scotland only 53% live within a five minute walk from green or open space compared with 67% of those living in the least deprived areas. And just 53% of people in large urban areas live within a 5 minute walk of greenspace compared with 87% of people in remote rural 1 areas.
15. It is also worth noting that people who are very satisfied with their local greenspace are not surprisingly more likely to visit it every day or several times a week (45%, compared with 6% of those who are fairly or very dissatisfied). This suggests that poor quality greenspace impacts on frequency of use of greenspace which in turn reduces people's possibility of gaining the physical and mental health benefits of greenspace.
16. A third of people are very satisfied with the quality of their local greenspace; 46% are fairly satisfied. The people who were less likely to be very satisfied with their local greenspace were: those under 40, social renters, and those living in flats, urban areas or small towns, and in the most deprived areas.
17. The advantages of using greenspace have been shown in previous research in terms of increased physical activity levels as well as having a positive impact on both physical and mental health. And in fact, around a quarter of people in Scotland say that the main reason they visit their local greenspace is for exercise, while 17% use it to walk their dogs. 19% say they 'just pass through' their local greenspace, and 16% say it is somewhere to take the children or grandchildren. All these uses involve at least some level of exercise. Factors relating to relaxation, getting fresh air and meeting people appear to be relatively less likely to be the main reasons for people visiting their local greenspace.
18. The most frequently chosen factor that would encourage people to use their local greenspace more often was if they had more time, chosen by 24%. The next 3 factors were also people's top 3 priorities for making a good park or local greenspace; if it felt safer (21%), if it had more or better play facilities for children (16%), and if it was better maintained (15%).
Does having access to greenspace impact on quality of life?
19. SSA 2009 shows that quality of local greenspace is positively associated with self-reported health, overall life satisfaction, social trust and a sense of community cohesion, even after age, income and area deprivation are taken into account. For example, 43% of people who are very satisfied with their local greenspace say their health is very good compared with 26% of those who are neither satisfied or dissatisfied or fairly or very dissatisfied.
20. Further analysis points to specific aspects of greenspace in the local area that may help explain how and why greenspace contributes to these various aspects of quality of life. For example, feeling good about the availability of local green and pleasant places to walk or sit and visiting greenspace with family or friends or to meet people were more strongly associated with self-reported health than satisfaction with the quality of local greenspace per se. In terms of social trust and community cohesion, feeling there is somewhere safe and pleasant for children to play, agreeing that the local area is nice to walk around in, and using local greenspace to meet people were key.
21. Taken together, these findings suggest that access to greenspace matters primarily in so far as it contributes to providing a safe, pleasant, walkable and sociable environment for people.
22. The evidence from SSA 2009 suggests that in order to make somewhere a 'sustainable place' an area needs to meet expectations around its qualitative and ambient features and not simply to provide amenities and functionality.
23. People's differing priorities about what needs improving in the local area and what is important in a local park or greenspace will be of interest to those planning new developments or regeneration. Communities with different demographic profiles might have somewhat different understandings of what would make the area a 'sustainable place' for them.
24. The level of feelings of disempowerment amongst certain groups and its association with dissatisfaction with where you live suggests that, in developing policies and strategies around 'sustainable communities', the Scottish Government's definitions of 'sustainable communities' might usefully be amended to take in 'places that encourage community engagement and empowerment'.
25. Findings on the features most strongly associated with people being satisfied or dissatisfied with the area highlight the importance of providing local greenspace and other areas that feel pleasant and safe to walk around in, as well as dealing with problems of low-level noise and anti-social behaviour.
26. Higher levels of satisfaction with quality of local greenspace were associated with better self-assessed health, higher life satisfaction, greater social trust and a higher sense of community cohesion. However, the findings suggest that access to greenspace matters primarily in so far as it contributes to the provision of a pleasant, walkable, sociable and safe environment.