When we go for a walk in woodland it usually makes us feel relaxed. Be it because of the beautiful smell of soil, moss, and decaying leaves or the sound of birds and rustling leaves. Nature re-energises us, helps against asthma, hypertension and stress, helps us to find peace with ourselves, and might even increase our cognitive abilities by making us more creative. Nature even seems to reduce depression by over 70% according to the University of Essex , which is an incredible figure.
The effect is similar if we go for a seaside walk with the calming, repetitive sound of waves rolling onto the shoreline, and the oxygenated scent of the ocean. Maybe we even feel the sand under our feet as we wade a bit into the water. Surely there is a reason why a lot of relaxation music includes the sound of waves? Derby University have confirmed the positive impact on nature on us following their 30 Days Wild experiment.
Regenerative and restorative effect of nature
The reason why a dose of nature, greenery, and fresh air is beneficial might be tied to the stimulation of all senses – smell, sight, touch and the fact that we are evolutionarily ‘hardwired’ to live in nature rather than in cities, obviously a recent development only. Hence the regenerative, restorative effect nature has on us. The wider horizon gives us a new perspective, maybe even makes us realize how small we are (e.g. while standing on top of a mountain).
Why don’t we ‘use’ nature more regularly as a cure from city ailments and why don’t we detox by going back to basics and counteract the disconnection from natural rhythms? (Just think how we follow natural rhythms when camping)
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” H.D. Thoreau – Walden
Gardening, basically getting our fingers dirty, has a positive effect on our mental health and even contributes to our happiness by producing serotonin due to bacteria found in soil. We don’t need a big garden for some planting, even a window box or a couple of planters on a balcony can make a difference. Considering wildlife while gardening obviously brings additional environmental benefits.
Even being able to just see a little bit of greenery has a positive impact on us. Hospital patients for example showed faster recovery when they could see nature from their room according to the NHS. So even a desk plant or having a desk with a view onto some trees might make a difference, isn’t that crazy? This should give urban planners some food for thought. Maybe the old timers weren’t completely wrong when they designed the gardens/ greens in Georgian days as central places for the community which were overlooked by the houses bordering the squares?
Green urbanism – a new approach for city planning?
With so much focus on providing housing, do we consider incorporating green spaces enough, especially with the high cost of land in cities? Should we take architects more seriously that incorporate green spaces, such as with the amazing Vertical Forest in Milan? Instead of being a luxury, should incorporating green spaces become the norm? There are so many ways: Balconies, roof gardens, court yards, parking lots not just concreted over but covered with pavers that allow grass to grow through etc etc. There are probably also a lot more unused spaces that could be converted into a beneficial green space.
Valuing our green spaces
Some countries such as Japan actively promote taking ‘forest baths’ for their citizens. As we become more and more urbanized, should we follow their lead by creating more opportunities for such wildlife immersion? Would this have a positive effect on our ability to deal with stress and other trappings of city life?
Personally I don’t think we put enough value to green spaces. Of course yields would be higher if an apartment block could be built in the spot that once housed hedgehogs, foxes and a multitude of insects. How do we quantify the value to our health and to the environment? Can we find a balance to provide a haven for wildlife in the usual urban wastelands while at the same time making these more accessible for us all to benefit from? At least turn such spaces into a green space we can enjoy looking at so that we can reap the positive benefits by simply seeing some greenery (just think of New York’s High Line Park).
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – R.W. Emerson
Should there be some direct encouragement through public policy to create more green spaces? Similarly to incorporating art work for public buildings, maybe we should consider a certain amount of green space allocated to any new public building? Such a requirement would surely spur architects’ creativity to integrate nature into public areas. Should we take more ownership ourselves to push for such changes and defend our still existing green spaces or even those wastelands that are an important haven for wildlife?
What do you think?
“Going to the woods is going home, for I suppose we come from the woods originally” – J. Muir
In the meantime – what better argument to go ‘forest bathing’ (what a great term!), beach walking, star gazing, wild swimming, hill walking – or simply swapping the jog around the block for the park while visualising being fully immersed into nature and feel the soothing effect. And yes, green therapy and eco therapy do exist.