An overgrown city is a healthy city. Plants regulate temperatures, scrub the air, provide a haven for urban wildlife and lift our mood sky-high. But all too often, parks and tree-lined boulevards have been regarded as cosmetic frills worked around the basic necessities of concrete, glass and metal – something to add if there’s any money left in your budget. It’s shutters in the front and bare metal in the back.
Back to the drawing board. A study of urban mortality undertaken by two Scottish universities has discovered a link between good health and green spaces – more specifically, reduced health inequalities. All city populations experience different levels of wellness according to social factors such as income, lifestyle, diet and access to medical facilities. The researchers found that in the 366,000 cases studied, close proximity to green spaces reduced this inequality and reduced the likelihood of people suffered from a number of medical disorders, particularly heart disease and strokes.
Why is this the case? Firstly, greenery cleans the air for us and evens out the temperature, making cities not only more pleasant but more healthful. But this may be the lesser part of the answer. Since mind and body are intertwined, it’s clear that a reduction in stress levels can have a profound physiological effect. Recent studies suggest that if your stress levels are high, your body is more likely to age quicker and heal slower. As well as encouraging people to go for a walk in them, green spaces may significantly improve health simply by allowing people to breathe out.
In the literal sense, our cities need to be greened up. Our health depends upon it. In an increasingly urban world, this has become a critical issue – and if city planners and municipalities don’t rise to the challenge, they may have a rebellion on their hands.
Image: sky shutter