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.

Climate change impacts such as extreme weather events, higher temperatures, sea-level rise and loss of biodiversity threaten both the natural and built environment, and are already being experienced in New Zealand [7].Climate change has direct and indirect impacts on health and wellbeing, including through mental and physical health impacts, change to livelihoods, threats to housing and infrastructure, and changes to the natural environment [7, 8].

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. More than a decade on from the devastating 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, many of the rebuild projects are now complete, and the city now has a (largely complete) modern, more compact and functional central city.

Overall, a large proportion of greater Christchurch respondents to the Canterbury Wellbeing Survey is satisfied with the available community facilities, and satisfied with their access to the natural environment. Although, there has been a statistically significant decrease in satisfaction with the ease of access to suitable transport, between the 2020 and 2022 Canterbury Wellbeing Surveys (most notably in Christchurch City, as well as in Selwyn District).

Previously, the alcohol licence density in greater Christchurch was lower than for New Zealand as a whole, across the three main licence types: on-licences, off-licences, and club licences (2016). However, the alcohol licence density in Christchurch City has increased in 2019 (time series data for New Zealand overall 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 (unchanged since 2020), and gambling machine density in greater Christchurch is now broadly in line with the density across New Zealand overall. Further, gambling machine spending per 10,000 population aged 15 years and over decreased slightly between 2021 and 2022. 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.

A question about climate change preparedness was added to the Canterbury Wellbeing Survey in 2020 and shows a relatively low proportion of respondents (16.8% across greater Christchurch) agreeing that their community is moderately or very well prepared to plan for and respond to the impacts of climate change in 2022.

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 (2017–2022).

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 2022, and for access to transport in 2017, 2019, and 2022).

Perception of preparedness for climate change impacts varies notably by age, with a statistically significantly lower proportion of respondents agreeing that their community is moderately or very well prepared for each of the three younger age groups (18–24, 25–34, and 35–49 years) compared to the two oldest age groups (65–74 and 75+ years), in 2020 and 2022.

What this means for wellbeing

The environmental damage caused by the Canterbury earthquake sequence continues to diminish, with the pattern of change observed across many of the indicators in this domain being one of steady improvement. There are high levels of satisfaction across the measures of satisfaction with local community facilities, ease of access to transport, and ease of access to the natural environment. Other environment indicators - such as falling gambling machine density - have positive implications for wellbeing, as does improved air quality. However, perception of a lack of community preparedness for climate change impacts raises concerns about future wellbeing impacts.


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