Have you ever wondered why you feel so much better when you are biking through a park or hanging out in an outdoors in the city? Green spaces are actually healthy for people living in cities and here’s why.
Having well-kept parks, green areas and cycling paths elevate positive physical and psychological health and also promote social cohesion and community by sharing public space. Understanding the impacts of green spaces helps planners strategically include a natural environment in cities to better people’s lives.
According to a report in the Journal of Urban Health, “by 2030, 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities”. The importance of creating appropriate planning infrastructures is paramount to creating healthy cities for the urban sphere.
Looking back, the first public parks were built in Spain in the 16th century. In the 20th century, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States further popularized parks and gardens in cities. Today, most cities have parks, but lack of variety in green spaces.
Walkable Cities, a 2012 report written by the City of Toronto, says that people who live in Toronto with access to green spaces and parks have lower BMI indexes than people living in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Using a vehicle to get across the city lowers the amount of physical exercise people obtain on a daily basis. By creating walkable parks and green spaces within the proximity of services, it motivates people to travel to these spaces and remain active.
The study says that 85 per cent of Canadian adults do not get the 150 minutes of prescribed weekly physical activity and 91 per cent of boys and 96 per cent of girls do not get the daily 60 minutes of needed exercise. Green City, another health study by the City of Toronto reads that children that have a playground within one kilometre of their home were five times more likely to have a healthy weight. Having access to playgrounds, parks and walkable green spaces becomes a necessity for physical health of urban residents.
Poor air quality in large urban centres such as Toronto is a mounting concern for health experts in the city. An increasing pollution has been directly correlated with the rising numbers of people who have been diagnosed with respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular diseases. Green spaces can also help to emit better air quality and reduce rates of pollution in the area because the concentrated greenery acts a carbon sink.
Green spaces also have positive impacts on mental health. Being in nature lowers stress, depression and loneliness due to the relaxing effect of large open spaces. The Green City study concluded that people living within one kilometre, as compared to three kilometres, of green space reported lowered rates of loneliness and stress. Green space can help children with Attention Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). According to the study, when children play in areas with large trees and grass, the symptoms of ADHD noticeably decreases. Walking for 20 minutes in a park with a child with ADHD also helps improve concentration performance.
If you have ever walked in a large park and seen families enjoying a picnic while other people play sports, it is easy to see the sense of community green spaces help facilitate. People can share spaces in a healthy manner, which allows for community related activity to be fostered. Often, physical activities that take place in green spaces promote social cohesion, which lowers stress rates and promotes people being together in a leisurely manner.
On the other hand, green spaces that are neglected do not show the same positive health impacts as parks and paths that are looked after. Neglected green spaces can become dangerous for communities and, according to a report by Social Science & Medicine, it actually increase rates of stress.
So, next time you walk past that park by your house, duck in for a quick wander and you will come out feeling refreshed and satisfied. By interacting with green space, you will allow yourself a healthy lifestyle, and if everyone uses the green space, the city won’t forget to incorporate parks, paths and green areas into their urban planning strategy.