The world’s natural space is fast disappearing what with rapid urbanization and all. Most green spaces are turned into agricultural, residential, and commercial spaces to meet the growing needs of the public for natural resources and living space. As a result, Mother Nature takes all the blow just so we can continue to live in utter comfort and safety. If you live in a big city like most people do these days, you likely won’t be seeing a lot of trees and green scenery because almost everywhere around you is full of towering skyscrapers that house businesses and residents alike.
To make urban living healthier and better for our mental health, most land developers and builders are now incorporating green spaces into the living spaces they build. You can see patches of green parks or gardens in an inconspicuous corner or city centers to give the people a feeling of living with nature. Green spaces in busy city streets offer a lot of health benefits. They filter dust and other harmful pollutants in the air that is common in city living. They also help in cooling down the temperature and providing shade that is a welcome relief in cities that are mostly devoid of big trees. It is even helpful in reducing the rate of erosion in waterways as well as protecting rivers and streams by filtering toxic runoff.
The World Health Organisation stipulates that all residents must live within 15 minutes of a green space. Western countries have tended to adopt a norm of 20 square metres of per capita green space. Many of them, however, overshoot this requirement. So, in Dutch cities, the per capita green space is 228 sq m, while in the Greater Paris region, it is 80 sq m. In India, according to the “Urban Greening Guidelines, 2014”, a report from the Ministry of Urban Development, the per capita green space in metropolitan cities is abysmal — 0.81 sq m in Chennai, 2 sq m in Bangalore and 1.24 sq m in Mumbai. Smaller cities like Varanasi (24.78 sq m), Bhopal (18.62 sq m) and Chandigarh (17.43 sq m) fare much better in this respect. Gandhinagar fares spectacularly with 162 sq m of green space per person.
The component of urban greens that is most conspicuous by its absence in Indian cities is neighbourhood parks. Even in small western towns, every neighbourhood has a park where children screech and run wildly around see-saws and slides while their mothers catch up with each other. It is a great stress-busting space that allows free play for children of all social strata.
We can’t just ignore it anymore. Urban living isn’t really the healthiest type of lifestyle for us but we find it hard to disconnect from our tech-crazed world. The tighter these cities become as more and more people converge in these crowded places. More land is then converted into homes and high-rising condominiums to accommodate the growing number of people requiring a place to live. As a result, more trees are cut down and land is cleared in preparation for building and constructing work. It is an endless and vicious cycle of abuse at a global scale that is happening more rapidly now than it did in the past.
While we cannot blame planners for causing all these issues, they do have the ability to intervene and thus a role to play in improving urban life. Design guidelines, for example, can help by ensuring people have more accidental social encounters in spaces like cafes, at mailboxes or in gardens.
So too can more strategic interventions such as community gardens – places where people grow not only food, but also friendships. More green space can also potentially buffer noise, heat and light, and provide respite from crowds.
In car-dependent outer suburbs and new housing estates, planners would do well to focus on first developing social facilities such as clubs, sporting facilities and parks. Public transport is another important intervention in such suburbs. Good access to public transport also reduces a household’s commuting expenses.
Our research suggests planners and built environment professionals have surprisingly low levels of knowledge about depressogenic environments.
Human health improves in the presence of a green environment. A person’s mood improves and brightens when they get to commune with nature. Even the sight of green plants and trees can do lots of wonder to a person’s overall health and well-being. People who are cooped up in physical structures tend to be less active. Experts even coined the term “depressogenic” to describe the poor mental health of individuals living in urban cities. We subconsciously get overwhelmed of the various distractions in our immediate environments such as bright lights, loud noise, and busy streets that it increases your cognitive load leaving you mentally stressed-out.
Better urban planning is needed to help counter the major flaws of urban living. Adding green touches like gardens, parks, trees, and other greenery is the first step to correcting this problem especially that we can’t just abandon our modern lifestyle that easily and decide to go off-grid in a heartbeat. There may be problems but there are also solutions if we just open up our minds to all the possibilities and perhaps declutter our lives a little for the sake of our health and sanity.