Background Several epidemiological studies have investigated the effect of the quantity of green space on health outcomes such as self-rated health, morbidity and mortality ratios. These studies have consistently found positive associations between the quantity of green and health. However, the impact of other aspects, such as the perceived quality and average distance to public green, and the effect of urban green on population health are still largely unknown. Methods Linear regression models were used to investigate the impact of three different measures of urban green on small-area life expectancy (LE) and healthy life expectancy (HLE) in The Netherlands. All regressions corrected for average neighbourhood household income, accommodated spatial autocorrelation, and took measurement uncertainty of LE, HLE as well as the quality of urban green into account. Results Both the quantity and the perceived quality of urban green are modestly related to small-area LE and HLE: an increase of 1 SD in the percentage of urban green space is associated with a 0.1-year higher LE, and, in the case of quality of green, with an approximately 0.3-year higher LE and HLE. The average distance to the nearest public green is unrelated to population health. Conclusions The quantity and particularly quality of urban green are positively associated with small-area LE and HLE. This concurs with a growing body of evidence that urban green reduces stress, stimulates physical activity, improves the microclimate and reduces ambient air pollution. Accordingly, urban green development deserves a more prominent place in urban regeneration and neighbourhood renewal programmes.