Greener Cities for our Mental Health
Words by Georgie Sinclair
Where is your nearest park?
Thankfully, researchers have been looking into the psychological effect urban green spaces have on our wellbeing for some time. A study carried out by the University of Wageningen looked into the general health conditions of over 4,500 individuals with comparable socio-economic status. It found that those who had a greater amount of green space within a 3km radius of their homes reported fewer stressful life events and better general health than those whose proximity to green space was more scarce.
Alarmingly, there are also findings which indicate that poor access to green space can cause damage to the part of the chromosome we call the Telomere, and is believed to trigger chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease when worn down. The scientific study which was carried out in Hong Kong, tested the chromosome conditions of people living in four different regions, and revealed that those living in neighbourhoods with lower percentage of green space in their vicinity had shorter Telomeres than their counterparts living in neighbourhoods with a greater abundance of green space.
“Poor access to green space can cause damage to the part of the chromosome we call the telomere”
Drop the blood pressure
So receptive are we to green habitats, in fact, that even a good view of plants and flowers through a window can have positive knock-on effects. A study carried out at Cornell University showed that children whose home environments contained more nature in and around their homes responded to stressful events far better than those who did not. Even the surfaces of their streets were examined. Was there grass, dirt or concrete? All these elements play a part. A similar study noted an actual reduction in blood pressure in people seated in a room where trees could be seen through the windows. A stark contrast to the second participating group whose blood pressure went up within 10 minutes of being sat in a room with no surrounding green views.
With the current estimate of 70% of the world’s population living in cities by 2050 (80% in the Netherlands), rapidly ageing populations and an ensuing pressure on mainstream healthcare, we have what you might call, a problem. We need to find new and resourceful ways to take care of our own health. And as we have just examined, giving our public spaces an extra coat of green might be a free ride to a more resilient future.
But if such efforts sound too difficult and too immobilising, fear not. Because enriching the quality of our urban fabric is not the sole responsibility of the authorities. Nor should access to green space be awarded to a privileged few. We, city dwellers, also have the means to make our green mark. So we’ve come up with a few (affordable) interventions to help you revitalise your streets and your mind in an instant…
“Enriching the quality of our urban fabric is not the sole responsibility of the almighty authorities”
Gewildgroei translates to ‘wanted weeds’, and aims to redefine the way we see weeds in our urban landscape. By definition, weeds are unwanted, considered harmful and unnecessary. Gewildgroei aims to transform our perception of ‘weeds’ upside down by showing us the value and potential weeds can have for our cities. On the one hand, cities invest vast amounts of money in creating green spaces, but on the other hand they spend just as much getting rid of the green that is naturally there. Their project Living Pavement is an open-tile system that enables spontaneous vegetation in urban public spaces.
CommonStudio’s Seed Bombs
One of the many projects initiated by creative practice CommonStudio is their seedbomb vending machine. Created in collaboration Greenaid, the project incentivises citizens to take up guerrilla gardening by offering dispensable seedbombs which can be customised to suit the climate and habitat of the city.
Vertical Garden Tube
The Vertical Garden Tube solves the problem of space shortage in cities by allowing you to grow plants, flowers, vegetables and herbs vertically, up to a height of 125 cm. Small spaces such as balconies now have the potential to be turned into thriving gardens. The Vertical Garden Tube aims to facilitate green space to grow in urban residences and commercial establishments such as offices, for easier access to fresh food, herbs and flowers.
Rooftop Revolution was created as a way to use city rooftops as a new location for nature to flourish in the city. Rooftops are the new nature reserves. Their mission is to develop brand new nature reserves in Dutch cities. To bring back native endangered plants and flower species, and create a new ecosystem that can flourish above our heads. By helping people crowdfund their rooftops in their neighbourhood, Rooftop Revolution builds an entire community of rooftop rangers and builds future cities together. In the future, their network and community of rangers hopes to create urban green reserves in cities all over Europe. They will start with 10.000 m2 of parks, spread across 100 roofs, in Amsterdam, and go from there.