Download complete Environment domain

In the context of this domain, environment comprises the natural environment and built environment. The natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things that occur naturally. The built environment includes the form and function, aesthetic qualities, and distribution across space of all human-made physical elements. These elements include: roads, footpaths, cycle paths, railway tracks, and bridges; residential, commercial, office, and industrial buildings; and public spaces and facilities [1]. The built elements are fundamentally influenced by urban design, land use, and transportation requirements. Nearly all elements of the built environment are shaped, to some extent, by planning rules and government policy [2].

Characteristics of the environment can influence health and wellbeing in direct and indirect ways [1-3]. For example, levels of air pollution, noise, and ease of access to untransformed landscapes are all factors that can directly influence human health and wellbeing. Access to natural environments with high recreational value can buffer stress [4], and visits to public conservation areas can improve mental health and wellbeing [5]. Indirect effects can come about through environmental features that influence health behaviours (for example the availability of sport and recreational facilities can influence the community’s physical activity patterns). Transport systems are also highly relevant as they impact on health and wellbeing through commuting patterns [6] and by providing access to other important services such as education, social and health care services, as well as places of employment.

Key trends within environment

The greater Christchurch region has undergone a period of unprecedented environmental change as a consequence of the Canterbury earthquake sequence, which began on 4 September 2010. Some of the immediate impacts on the environment included substantial damage to land; damage to and substantial losses of dwellings, commercial properties, and workplaces; considerable disruption to transport systems; and the loss of sports, recreation, cultural and leisure facilities.

Overall, a large proportion of greater Christchurch respondents to the Canterbury Wellbeing Survey is satisfied with the available community facilities. There has been a statistically significant increase in satisfaction with the ease of access to suitable transport, between the 2018 and 2019 Canterbury Wellbeing Surveys (most notably in Christchurch City, as well as in Waimakariri District). The alcohol licence density in greater Christchurch in 2016, was lower than for New Zealand as a whole, across the three main licence types: on-licences, off-licences, and club licences. However, time-series data are not yet available for this indicator. Gambling machine density reduced markedly in greater Christchurch immediately following the Canterbury earthquakes (mainly due to the loss of premises). However, the decline has flattened in recent years, and gambling machine density in greater Christchurch is now broadly in line with the density across New Zealand overall.

Air quality is an area in which substantial improvements have been made. The number of high-pollution days (PM10 exceedances per year) has generally decreased within the three airsheds (geographical areas) in greater Christchurch since 2008. Kaiapoi met the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality in 2020, however Christchurch and Rangiora did not.

Key equity issues within environment

While many indicators within environment relate to geographical areas, rather than to people, a number of inequities are highlighted by Canterbury Wellbeing Survey data. Survey data show those with a long-term health condition or disability to be statistically significantly less satisfied with their ease of access to suitable transport and ease of access to the natural environment, at the available time-points (2017, 2018, and 2019). Satisfaction with ease of access to transport, and ease of access to the natural environment, both show a weak gradient by income, with the difference between the lowest income (<$30,000 household income) and highest income ($100,000+ household income) groups being statistically significant for access to the natural environment, from 2017 to 2019 (but not significant for access to transport, with the exception of 2017).

What this means for wellbeing

Many aspects of the environment continue to bear long-term damage caused by the Canterbury earthquake sequence. However, the pattern of change observed across many of the indicators in this domain is one of steady improvement.

Three additional survey questions - satisfaction with local community facilities, ease of access to transport, and ease of access to the natural environment - were introduced from 2017, and there are high levels of satisfaction across these measures. Other environment indicators, showing lower density of alcohol licences in greater Christchurch, compared with New Zealand, and falling gambling machine density, have positive implications for wellbeing, as does improved air quality.


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