It’s true. This is a real thing.
Take a moment. Think about your city. How developed is your city? Does it have towering skyscrapers? Is it all cement, glass and concrete? Or does it have an abundance of urban green spaces?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’, specifically to the last question, then you’re lucky.
Even more so if it’s near your home.
A recent study said that people who get to spend around two hours in nature per week are more likely and more consistent to show better levels of health, well-being and happiness.
Photo source: Healthline
Urbanization and development are clear signs of economic progress but sometimes, living in this built environment can be downright stressful. Not to mention unhealthy.
Research shows that urbanites and city dwellers have a higher craving for nature because we feel our connection with nature growing ever more distant. To take a short break from this stress, we turn to nature escapes and greenery. We try to reconnect with ourselves and exercise mindfulness outside the office or sometimes, outside the city.
“Research shows really clearly that we need nature in our surroundings. We need trees in our streets, plants in our gardens and flowers on our balcony. We need nature as our neighbor all the time,” shares Dr. Cecil Konijnendijk, Professor of Urban Forestry at the University of British Columbia (UBC), with Natural History Museum, UK. “We have a responsibility as human beings to take care of nature in our cities. In return, the benefits to our health would be huge.”
It’s important to note that green spaces refer to all types of natural landscapes – tamed and untamed – and also includes the coast. Sometimes, when we need a break from the city, going to a park, having a walk by the river, hiking or a quick weekend at the beach are all very pleasing ideas.
Photo source: Shape Magazine
Urban green spaces have positive effects on the environment and the community. In order to create a healthy, livable city, these natural spots are an essential component. Here’s why:
1. Anxiety and stress relief
When it comes to green spaces, the most common benefit you’ll read about is its power to relieve stress and anxiety. Green spaces serve as urban respites that allow our minds to rest, relax and recover. Free from constant stimulation, our overloaded minds can let go and just be present.
In the recent decades, there’s been an explosion of research studies and findings showing concrete links between nature and physical and mental health.
The hustle and bustle of city life and the long working hours have made this relationship more pronounced; even more so due to the effect of lockdowns and quarantine. In Japan, there is a term they use – ‘karoshi’ – meaning death by overwork. As such, many take regular walks in the woods, parks, greenery, to help cope with work stress. It affords you the space to reflect.
“We’ve found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on wellbeing, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married,” according to a research led by one of the European Center’s environmental psychologists, Dr. Mathew White.
Photo source: ABC
2. Facilitate physical activities
Nature and green open spaces are also perfect venues to engage in physical activities and exercise. Our bodies crave movement, even only from time to time, to re-energize our body and mind.
In the ‘old normal’, we had to catch the bus or train during our daily commute; or walk to a restaurant for lunch and dinner. However, when we were in lockdown or quarantine, we had to come up with in-home workout routines just to keep active and healthy.
We need that space to move, and nowhere can we move more freely than in manicured urban green spaces or rough, natural environments. Plus, it’s where children can also explore and discover random, fascinating things.
It follows that you have to find green spaces that match the activities you want to do in the great outdoors. Parks within the city would do if you’re only looking to walk, jog or bike around. But if a more adventurous feat is needed, then you might want to look for a nice hiking spot, or mountain climbing option.
Only then will you be able to fully satisfy that craving for green exercise.
Photo source: Mental Floss
3. Encourage social activities and events
Along a similar vein, green spaces are also terrific platforms that promote social interaction and activities. Which, in turn, helps you achieve higher levels of happiness and healthy well-being.
Apart from the pandemic driving this wedge between people, we have been living in a world that increasingly suffers from social isolation or disconnect. This dangerous trajectory may lead to depression and a downward spiral of quality of life.
Photo source: London Gov
Loneliness is deadly. When you choose to spend some time outdoors, away from your phones and computers, you open yourself to the possibility of building human connections. In parks or nature, it becomes easier to engage in social activities because of lesser ‘barriers’.
“It doesn’t necessarily come naturally to people,” Sarah Bell, a research fellow at the University of Exeter’s European Center for Environment and Human Health, says of nature appreciation to Time. “But even if you haven’t had childhood experience, life transitions can make these settings become quite meaningful.”
As humans, we are social creatures. Just like we need to find ways to reconnect with nature in this built environment, we can’t afford to lose our connection to others. Green spaces are important reminders of the significance of having actual conversations, beyond the chat room, for our health and well-being.
Photo source: Harvard Health
4. Promote community engagement and togetherness
When we engage in social activities and events, the connection grows and enhances social cohesion. Having shared social experiences is integral no matter which community, city or country we live in.
Green spaces foster a sense of belonging. An increasingly important factor to combatting the contemporary lifestyles brought about by a very urbanized world. Apart from getting people off their couches, this boosts quality of life through a welcoming atmosphere.
Photo source: Earth Day
According to one study, urban green spaces prevent environmental decay which may negatively impact residents’ perception of ‘safety and security’. These negative ideas are one of the leading causes of vandalism, violence, crime, and a broken community.
Here are some reasons that researches mentioned about this:
- Your community has a shared piece of nature, in which you can engage in different social activities and exercise
- That public green space gives you a place to relax outside your home, a respite from work or other stressors at home
- It provides an open opportunity to mingle and make friends with your neighbors
- Having a pretty green space shows how it can enliven your entire neighborhood, making it a more pleasant place to live in
Consequently, these factors make you want to enjoy some quality time in it and protect it together.
Photo source: National Geographic Society
5. Fresher, cleaner air
Access to green spaces is not a luxury that is available to everyone, as the COVID-19 pandemic brought a wider awareness to this issue. That is why, there is a growing, more urgent need to change this skewed fact.
According to ecologist Karl Evans of the University of Sheffield, “A model green city for me would be one that was relatively densely packed,” he says to NewScientist. “But the green space within it would be highly connected and extremely high quality and, crucially, highly accessible to all sectors of society.”
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
Not only do urban green spaces give you all the above points and boost your well-being, they also make your spaces healthier to live in. A known fact – greenery and nature gives fresher, cleaner air. Compared to cement and concrete, they clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and other harmful particles and releasing oxygen; while the built environment contributes to pollution.
More than 10 million people die each year from air pollution. And, it is estimated that by 2050, 68% of the global population will be living in cities. Therefore, apart from getting a chance to relax and unwind, green spaces also make us healthier by filling our lungs full of cleaner air.
Dr Matilda van den Bosch, a physician and an assistant professor at UBC, with a PhD in landscape planning and public health, says: ‘It’s not as simple as just creating green spaces in certain areas. The situation we have at the moment is that high-quality urban areas, with good access to nature, are more expensive to live in. There needs to be an effort to recognise that green spaces are vital for everyone, and that everyone should feel the benefit. Parks should be easily accessible, democratic spaces – somewhere you can go without the pressure to spend money, and meet people from all walks of life within your community.”
Photo source: Medical Xpress
6. Aesthetically more appealing
Greens always breathe new life into a space. Just like how indoor plants can make your homes more aesthetically pleasing to look at, urban green spaces beautify a city.
With this trend of making cities healthier, more sustainable and livable, architects, designers and urban planners take inspiration from nature. This led to the rise of the biophilic concept and nature or water-inspired architecture.
Photo source: The Conversation
Two ways urban green spaces augment the beauty of a city or community are:
- Organic colors have a different pull compared to artificial shades. Every leaf has a unique shade that naturally changes, bringing the landscape in its varying portraits
- Urban green spaces and natural landscapes provide a pleasant, visual break from the buildings and infrastructures that you see in every direction
Having a healthy combination of green lands and modern buildings in a city creates changes in the everyday things you see. These diverse visual interests make it appealing, never boring. There’s always something new to see.
Photo source: BBC