Green Space Increases City-Dwellers’ Wellbeing

As much as humanity tries to separate itself from “nature” –paving over city streets with concrete and erecting large, unnatural structures that block out natural elements and creatures– we can not escape the fact that we too are animals.  Humans are connected to every part of the natural world, and as such, we are nature-philic.  We are naturally happier and more relaxed in green spaces than we are in confined, concrete jungles, and this new study done at the University of Exeter proves it.

The study uses data from 5,000 UK households (with over 10,000 adults) over 17 years, and concludes that living near gardens, green spaces and parks can improve the wellbeing, life satisfaction, and psychological health of city-dwellers.  The report states:

“Our analyses suggest that people are happier when living in urban areas with greater amounts of green space. Compared to instances when they live in areas with less green space they show significantly lower mental distress (GHQ scores) and significantly higher wellbeing (life satisfaction).

The analysis also made it possible to compare the beneficial effects of green space with other factors which influence wellbeing. In comparative terms, living in an area with higher levels of green space was associated with improvements in our wellbeing indicators roughly equal to a third of that gained from being married, or a tenth as large as being employed vs. unemployed.

These effects emerge controlling for other differences at the different time points such as income, employment status, marital status, health, housing type and local area level variables, such as crime rates.

Urbanisation is considered a potential threat to mental health and wellbeing and although effects at the individual level are small, this study demonstrates that the potential benefit at a population level should be an important consideration in policies aiming to protect and promote urban green spaces for wellbeing.”

In our race to grow economically, rapid urbanization and industrialization have largely overlooked both the environmental effects of developing as such, and also the consequences for our human psychology and the social fabric of life.  We currently do not account for animal co-habitation or ecosystem processes when we design cities and urban buildings.  Instead, we build cheaply and unsustainably, as each real estate company tries to increase individual profit margins and stay competitive. The ethos of economic individualism that sees the desire for more as a necessary motivating force behind economic growth obscures the social and environmental implications of this kind of behaviour.  We need to reconnect with the world that lies beyond our fortified, technological cities; to view ourselves as part of something bigger and far more beautiful.  Certainly, our wellbeing and our quality of life will be improved when we embrace nature as part of ourselves and our daily lives –rather than seclude ourselves from nature while we destroy it.


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