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Regional Comparison

The Big Cities Project


Physical Environment:

Physical Environment

Desired Outcomes

The natural and built environment in which people live is clean, healthy and beautiful. Everybody is able to access natural areas and public spaces.


The physical environment includes land, air, water, plants and animals, buildings and other infrastructure, and all of the natural resources that provide our basic needs and opportunities for social and economic development.

A clean, healthy environment is important for people’s physical and emotional wellbeing. At a fundamental level, elements such as clean air and good quality drinking water are vital for people’s physical health. Other environmental factors such as noise pollution can cause both physical harm and psychological stress.

The cleanliness and beauty of the environment is also important for people’s sense of wellbeing. For many people, access to an attractive physical environment contributes to their contentedness with life. A healthy environment provides recreational opportunities, allowing people to take part in activities they value. For New Zealanders, the "clean, green" environment is an integral part of national identity, and guardianship of the land and other aspects of the physical environment is seen as an important part of social wellbeing.78 This image is also vital for the health of New Zealand's economy. It is a key contributor in attracting tourists and it underpins the nation’s success as an exporter of primary products.

Harm to the environment can reduce the quality of life not only for people alive today but also for those born many years in the future. The concept of sustainability is an important aspect of social wellbeing. It acknowledges that social and economic developments need to take place in ways that do not harm present and future wellbeing by damaging the natural environment, and do not harm future wellbeing by using natural resources in unsustainable ways.


Two indicators are used in this chapter: air quality and drinking water quality. Both measure important aspects of the environment that have a direct impact on individual wellbeing. Because of a lack of adequate data, there is no direct measure of people’s access to natural areas and public spaces.

The two indicators provide an insight into current and future wellbeing. They relate to the health, cleanliness and beauty of the environment. Pollution in the air or water can have significant adverse effects on people’s health, as well as being detrimental to the beauty of the environment.

The first indicator measures the levels of fine particles in the air at certain sites. Fine particles are known to have a harmful effect on people’s health. Prolonged exposure to elevated levels has been linked with the aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and premature death.

The second indicator measures the percentage of the population receiving drinking water that complies with the 2000 Drinking Water Standards. Poor-quality drinking water can create health risks from water-borne diseases and contaminants. It is also likely to be associated with poor-quality sewerage infrastructure and electricity supply.