Relationships between urban green land cover and human health at different spatial resolutions

  • Wei-Lun TsaiEmail author
  • Yu-Fai Leung
  • Melissa R. McHale
  • Myron F. Floyd
  • Brian J. Reich


Relationships between landscape patterns and ecological processes can vary with changing resolution. Many studies in ecosystem services and human health rely on spatial-dependent data, yet the effects of changes in spatial resolution on the linkages between landscape and human health are underexplored. This study seeks to address the research gap by exploring the relationships of green land cover and pattern metrics at 1 m, 10 m, and 30 m with life expectancy in the City of Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Spearman’s rho correlation and stepwise and hierarchical regression models were applied. Results showed that the effects of resolution change did not emerge for percent green land cover but were evident in other pattern metrics. Multivariate relationships showed that metrics at 1 m explained the most variability of the relationships between green land cover and life expectancy after controlling for potential confounding factors (adjusted R2 = 0.776, and 0.752 at 10 m and 0.747 at 30 m). Edge density of coarse vegetation was significantly associated with life expectancy at 1 m (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.012, 95%CI = 1.004–1.024, p < 0.01) and 10 m (AOR = 1.018, 95%CI = 1.009–1.027, p < 0.001) but not at 30 m. Euclidean distance of fine vegetation had a strong positive association with greater life expectancy at 1 m (AOR = 2.067, 95%CI = 1.185–4.072, p < 0.05) but not at 10 m and 30 m. These findings underscore the importance of acknowledging the effects of resolution on the interpretation of landscape-human health relationships and the need for caution when results are used in planning and management decisions.


MAUP Landscape metrics Life expectancy 



We would like to thank the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council and U.S. Forest Service for their support of this research. We would also like to express our gratitude to the research team at the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, Long-Term Ecological Research, and specifically thank Morgan Grove and Jarlath O’Neil-Dunn for their contribution and providing access to the land cover data. We also thank Baltimore City Department of Health for their release of Neighborhood Health Profile.


  1. Abraham A, Sommerhalder K, Abel T (2010) Landscape and well-being: a scoping study on the health-promoting impact of outdoor environments. Int Public Health J 55:59–69. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akpinar A, Barbosa-Leiker C, Brooks KR (2016) Does green space matter? Exploring relationships between green space type and health indicators. Urban For Urban Gree 20:407–418. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alberti M (2005) The effects of urban patterns on ecosystem function. Int Reg Sci Rev 28:168–192. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Alberti M (2010) Maintaining ecological integrity and sustaining ecosystem function in urban areas. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 2:178–184. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Alcock I, White MP, Lovell R, Higgins SL, Osborne NJ, Husk K, Wheeler BW (2015) What accounts for ‘England's green and pleasant land’? A panel data analysis of mental health and land cover types in rural England. Landsc Urban Plan 142:38–46. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Astell-Burt T, Mitchell R, Hartig T (2014) The association between green space and mental health varies across the lifecourse. A longitudinal study. J Epidemiol Community Health 68:578–583. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Baltimore City Health Department (2011) Neighborhood health profile reports.
  8. Baumgardner D, Varela S, Escobedo FJ, Chacalo A, Ochoa C (2012) The role of a peri-urban forest on air quality improvement in the Mexico City megalopolis. Environ Pollut 163:174–183. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Bell JF, Wilson JS, Liu GC (2008) Neighborhood greenness and 2-year changes in body mass index of children and youth. Am J Prev Med 35:547–553. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Bigsby K, McHale M, Hess G (2013) Urban morphology drives the homogenization of tree cover in Baltimore, md, and Raleigh, nc. Ecosystems 17:1–16. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boone CG, Buckley GL, Grove JM, Sister C (2009) Parks and people: an environmental justice inquiry in Baltimore, Maryland. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 99:767–787. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Braveman PA, Cubbin C, Egerter S, Williams DR, Pamuk E (2010) Socioeconomic disparities in health in the United States: what the patterns tell us. Am J Public Health 100(Suppl 1):S186–S196. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Cabral P, Santos JA, Augusto G (2011) Monitoring urban sprawl and the national ecological reserve in sintra-cascais, Portugal: multiple ols linear regression model evaluation. J Urban Plan D-Asce 137:346–353. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cadenasso ML, Pickett STA, Grove MJ (2006) Integrative approaches to investigating human-natural systems: the Baltimore ecosystem study. Natures Sciences Sociétés 14:4–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chowdhury RR, Larson K, Grove M, Polsky C, Cook E, Onsted J, Ogden L (2011) A multi-scalar approach to theorizing socio-ecological dynamics of urban residentiallandscapes. Cities Environ 1:Article 6Google Scholar
  16. Collinge SK (1996) Ecological consequences of habitat fragmentation: implications for landscape architecture and planning. Landsc Urban Plan 36:59–77. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Correia AW, Pope CA, Dockery DW, Wang Y, Ezzati M, Dominici F (2013) The Effect of air pollution control on life expectancy in the United States: An Analysis of 545 US counties for the period 2000 to 2007. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass) 24:23–31. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Corry R (2005) Characterizing fine-scale patterns of alternative agricultural landscapes with landscape pattern indices. Landsc Ecol 20:591–608. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cusack L, Larkin A, Carozza SE, Hystad P (2017) Associations between multiple green space measures and birth weight across two US cities. Health Place 47:36–43. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Dadvand PV, Cristina M, Font-Ribera L, Martinez D, Basagaña X, Belmonte J, Vrijheid M, Gražulevičienė R, Kogevinas M, Nieuwenhuijsen MJ (2014) Risks and benefits of green spaces for children: a cross-sectional study of associations with sedentary Behavior, obesity, asthma, and allergy. Environ Health Perspect 122:1329–1335. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Donovan GH, Butry DT, Michael YL, Prestemon JP, Liebhold AM, Gatziolis D, Mao MY (2013) The relationship between trees and human health: Evidence from the spread of the emerald ash borer. Am J Prev Med 44:139–145. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Escobedo FJ, Nowak DJ (2009) Spatial heterogeneity and air pollution removal by an urban forest. Landsc Urban Plan 90:102–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fan JX, Hanson HA, Zick CD, Brown BB, Kowaleski-Jones L, Smith KR (2014) Geographic scale matters in detecting the relationship between neighbourhood food environments and obesity risk: an analysis of driver license records in salt Lake County, Utah. BMJ Open 4:e005458. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Frumkin H et al (2017) Nature contact and human health: a research agenda. Environ Health Perspect 075001-075001:125Google Scholar
  25. Grimm N, Grove JM, Pickett SA, Redman C (2008) Integrated approaches to long-term studies of urban ecological systems. In: Marzluff J et al (eds) Urban ecology. Springer US, pp 123–141.
  26. Grove JM, Burch W Jr (1997) A social ecology approach and applications of urban ecosystem and landscape analyses: a case study of Baltimore. maryland Urban Ecosyst 1:259–275. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Heaviside C, Vardoulakis S, Cai X-M (2016) Attribution of mortality to the urban heat island during heatwaves in the west midlands, UK. Environ Health 15:S27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hox JJ (1994) Hierarchical regression models for interviewer and respondent effects. Sociol Methods Res 22:300–318. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jackson LE, Daniel J, McCorkle B, Sears A, Bush KF (2013) Linking ecosystem services and human health: the eco-health relationship browser. Int J Public Health 58:747–755. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. James P, Berrigan D, Hart JE, Aaron Hipp J, Hoehner CM, Kerr J, Major JM, Oka M, Laden F (2014) Effects of buffer size and shape on associations between the built environment and energy balance. Health Place 27:162–170. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. James P, Banay RF, Hart JE, Laden F (2015) A review of the health benefits of greenness. Current Epidemiology Reports 2:131–142. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  32. Jerrett M, Burnett RT, Ma R, Pope CA III, Krewski D, Newbold KB, Thurston G, Shi Y, Finkelstein N, Calle EE, Thun MJ (2005) Spatial analysis of air pollution and mortality in Los Angeles. Epidemiology 16:727–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jonker MF, van Lenthe FJ, Donkers B, Mackenbach JP, Burdorf A (2014) The effect of urban green on small-area (healthy) life expectancy. J Epidemiol Community Health 68:999–1002. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Klompmaker JO, Hoek G, Bloemsma LD, Gehring U, Strak M, Wijga AH, van den Brink C, Brunekreef B, Lebret E, Janssen NAH (2018) Green space definition affects associations of green space with overweight and physical activity. Environ Res 160:531–540. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Lamy T, Liss KN, Gonzalez A, Bennett EM (2016) Landscape structure affects the provision of multiple ecosystem services. Environ Res Lett 11:124017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lawler J, Edwards T (2002) Landscape patterns as habitat predictors: building and testing models for cavity-nesting birds in the uinta mountains of Utah. USA Landsc Ecol 17:233–245. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Li X, Zhou W, Ouyang Z, Xu W, Zheng H (2012) Spatial pattern of greenspace affects land surface temperature: evidence from the heavily urbanized Beijing metropolitan area, China. Landsc Ecol 27:887–898. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Li XM, Zhou WQ, Ouyang ZY (2013) Relationship between land surface temperature and spatial pattern of greenspace: what are the effects of spatial resolution? Landsc Urban Plan 114:1–8. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Livesley SJ, McPherson EG, Calfapietra C (2016) The urban Forest and ecosystem services: impacts on urban water, heat, and pollution cycles at the tree, street, and City scale. J Environ Qual 45:119–124. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Maas J, Verheij R, Groenewegen P, de Vries S, Spreeuwenberg P (2006) Green space, urbanity and health: how strong is the relation? J Epidemiol Community Health 60:587–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Markevych I, Schoierer J, Hartig T, Chudnovsky A, Hystad P, Dzhambov AM, de Vries S, Triguero-Mas M, Brauer M, Nieuwenhuijsen MJ, Lupp G, Richardson EA, Astell-Burt T, Dimitrova D, Feng X, Sadeh M, Standl M, Heinrich J, Fuertes E (2017) Exploring pathways linking greenspace to health: theoretical and methodological guidance. Environ Res 158:301–317. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. McGarigal K, Cushman SA, Ene E (2012) Fragstats v4: Spatial pattern analysis program for categorical and continuous maps. Computer software program produced by the authors at the university of massachusetts, amherst. Available at the following web site:
  43. Mitchell R, Popham F (2008) Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study. Lancet 372:1655–1660. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Moore R (2004) A brief economic history of modern baltimoreGoogle Scholar
  45. Myint SW, Gober P, Brazel A, Grossman-Clarke S, Weng Q (2011) Per-pixel vs. object-based classification of urban land cover extraction using high spatial resolution imagery. Remote Sens Environ 115:1145–1161. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. O'Neill RV, Hunsaker CT, Timmins SP, Jackson BL, Jones KB, Riitters KH, Wickham JD (1996) Scale problems in reporting landscape pattern at the regional scale. Landsc Ecol 11:169–180. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Openshaw S, Taylor PJ (1981) The modifiable areal unit problem. In: Wrigley N, Bennett RJ (eds) Quantitative geography: a British view. Routledge and Kegan, London, pp 60–70Google Scholar
  48. Pickett STA, Cadenasso ML, Grove JM, Groffman PM, Band LE, Boone CG, Burch WR, Grimmond CSB, Hom J, Jenkins JC, Law NL, Nilon CH, Pouyat RV, Szlavecz K, Warren PS, Wilson MA (2008) Beyond urban legends: an emerging framework of urban ecology, as illustrated by the Baltimore ecosystem study. BioScience 58:139–150. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Poudyal NC, Hodges DG, Bowker JM, Cordell HK (2009) Evaluating natural resource amenities in a human life expectancy production function. For Policy Econ 11:253–259. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Reid C, Clougherty J, Shmool J, Kubzansky L (2017) Is all urban green space the same? A comparison of the health benefits of trees and grass in new York City. Int J Environ Res Public Health 14:1411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sarkar C (2017) Residential greenness and adiposity: findings from the UK biobank. Environ Int 106:1–10. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Schwarz K, Fragkias M, Boone CG, Zhou W, McHale M, Grove JM, O’Neil-Dunne J, McFadden JP, Buckley GL, Childers D, Ogden L, Pincetl S, Pataki D, Whitmer A, Cadenasso ML (2015) Trees grow on money: urban tree canopy cover and environmental justice. PLoS One 10:e0122051CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Staples C, Ahmed S, Ewers RM (2012) Sensitivity of gis patterns to data resolution: a case study of forest fragmentation in New Zealand. N Z J Ecol 36:203–209Google Scholar
  54. Takano T, Nakamura K, Watanabe M (2002) Urban residential environments and senior citizens' longevity in megacity areas. The importance of walkable green spaces. J Epidemiol Community Health 56:913–918CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Thompson CW (2011) Linking landscape and health: the recurring theme. Landsc Urban Plan 99:187–195. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Troy A, Morgan Grove J, O’Neil-Dunne J (2012) The relationship between tree canopy and crime rates across an urban–rural gradient in the greater Baltimore region. Landsc Urban Plan 106:262–270. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tsai W-L, McHale M, Jennings V, Marquet O, Hipp J, Leung Y-F, Floyd M (2018) Relationships between characteristics of urban green land cover and mental health in U.S. metropolitan areas. Int J Environ Res Public Health 15:340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tzoulas K, Korpela K, Venn S, Yli-Pelkonen V, Kazmierczak A, Niemela J, James P (2007) Promoting ecosystem and human health in urban areas using green infrastructure: a literature review. Landsc Urban Plan 81:167–178. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. US Census Bureau (2012) State & county quickfacts.
  60. Vailshery LS, Jaganmohan M, Nagendra H (2013) Effect of street trees on microclimate and air pollution in a tropical city. Urban Forestry Urban Greening 12:408–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. van den Bosch M, Ode Sang Å (2017) Urban natural environments as nature-based solutions for improved public health – a systematic review of reviews. Environ Res 158:373–384. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Villeneuve PJ, Jerrett M, Su JG, Burnett RT, Chen H, Wheeler AJ, Goldberg MS (2012) A cohort study relating urban green space with mortality in Ontario, Canada. Environ Res 115:51–58. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Villeneuve PJ, Jerrett M, Su JG, Weichenthal S, Sandler DP (2018) Association of residential greenness with obesity and physical activity in a US cohort of women. Environ Res 160:372–384. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Wu J (2004) Effects of changing scale on landscape pattern analysis: scaling relations. Landsc Ecol 19:125–138. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wu J, Xie W, Li W, Li J (2015) Effects of urban landscape pattern on PM2.5 pollution—a Beijing case study. PLoS One 10:e0142449. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  66. Zheng D, Heath LS, Ducey MJ (2008) Identifying grain-size dependent errors on global forest area estimates and carbon studies. Geophys res Lett 35:n/a-n/a.
  67. Zhou W, Wang J, Cadenasso ML (2017) Effects of the spatial configuration of trees on urban heat mitigation: a comparative study. Remote Sens Environ 195:1–12. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism ManagementNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  2. 2.Center for Geospatial AnalyticsNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecosystem Science and SustainabilityColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.Department of StatisticsNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

Personalised recommendations