Healthy green paths in periurban areas: a case study from Barcelona

Source: Xarxa de Parcs Naturals, Facebook page

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After many municipalities in the Province of Barcelona showed their interest to develop healthy green paths in periurban areas, the Provincial Council launched a pilot project to answer them. Beginning in four municipalities that are close to Protected Areas, the goal of the project was to promote physical activity in nature as a healthy habit for everyone, but also to design trails and therapeutic activities to specific target groups with health disorders.

The Barcelona Metropolitan area, where five million people live, is surrounded by a network of 12 Protected Areas managed by the Provincial Council of Barcelona. In 2018, the Council started a pilot project in four municipalities close to the Protected Areas, with two main goals:

  • to promote outdoor physical activity as a healthy habit among people in periurban natural environment,
  • to target groups with specific disorders (such as mental disease or chronic pains) with special trails and activities.

Nowadays, several municipalities have these programs underway.

Read also the original case study on healthy paths in Barcelona, and one study from Scotland, focusing on health benefits of periurban parks.

Parks and Protected Areas provide many facilities and activities to promote health in natural surroundings close to cities. There is a high demand of green environments to develop daily activities. In periurban areas, these activities become accessible for many.

Tailor-made solutions

Given the different backgrounds of municipalities, a pilot project was developed with four of them. The aim was to adapt the actions to the real demand of each municipality. In some cases new healthy paths have been established; in other places, paths were already existing and the need was to liven up with activities; and in some other cases, direct collaboration with the local health sector has been key to reach target groups with specific health needs.

Source: Xarxa de Parcs Naturals, Facebook page

Key actions to promote healthy green paths in periurban areas:

  • Identification of key local stakeholders, from politicians and experts to medical practitioners, protected area managers, NGOs and associations;
  • Definition of the scenario and prioritise actions with stakeholders;
  • Taking action: it can be the development of new healthy paths, or areas for healthy activities; programs to encourage more people to use them; collaboration with health practitioners to start therapies with target groups.

Concerning project partners, Protected Area managers or environment and health departments on provincial and regional level have taken part in the project. On the other hand, all stakeholders from the environment and health sectors (public, private, social) have been involved on local municipal level.

A network of healthy paths

Nowadays, several municipalities have a network of healthy paths to promote relaxing and physical activity in nature. Some of them also have a program of activities (including path guidance, therapeutic treatments for target groups etc.) supported by the Provincial Council. Some initiatives on the Catalan level have emerged through the collaboration between public and private partners from the health and environmental sectors.

There is not a unique and right solution for all places – each municipality and Protected Area has a different background and needs.

Source: Xarxa de Parcs Naturals, Facebook page

Although it has been sometimes difficult to find suitable and accessible natural places, and it cost huge efforts to keep the different partners involved due to the lack of time and resources, the project has brought an efficient network of healthy green paths and an inspiration for many others.

According to Carles Castell from the Provincial Council of Barcelona, the best recipe is to acknowledge that there is not a unique and right solution for all places – each municipality and Protected Area has a different background and needs. It is essential to identify local stakeholders, analyse the situation, define priorities and most importantly, create a strong link between the health and environmental sectors.

For more information about the project, visit the website of the Provincial Council of Barcelona or contact Carles Castell on castellpc @