The health benefits of nature are well known, with people who spend time in natural environments less likely to be anxious or depressed than those who never leave the urban jungle. It's not possible for everyone to live by the ocean or hide away on the top of a mountain, however, so city planners are learning to improve the mental state of residents by adding pockets of nature that copy the wider world. By incorporating insights from science and psychology into their work, urban designers can create future cities that work with nature instead of fighting against it.
According to Dr Zoe Myers from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre at the University of WA, living in busy urban centres is more stressful than most people imagine: "The hustle and bustle of everyday life, the noises, the sounds, the light, really has a cumulative effect on our nervous systems. We find after a while that it increases that fight-or-flight response in us and we stay on high alert a lot of the time." With more people moving to cities all the time due to work and cultural opportunities, long-term solutions should not rely on escaping from cities but finding better ways to incorporate nature back into urban areas.
We can improve city life in leaps and bounds by learning from the cycles of nature instead of insulating ourselves from them. While urban design used to be based around artificial notions of control and comfort, the new paradigm is interested in the quality of urban spaces and how they promote interaction. "We are not lacking green space, it's more about the quality of that green space," said Dr. Myers, adding "Research has really found that the more that nature seems like real nature, the more that it seems like a real habitat, the more those restorative effects will influence us... We like a lot of flat lawn in our parks. While that has its place, I think we have become too reliant in thinking that is the only way to design a park."
As more people move into the centre of Australian and New Zealand cities, access to inclusive and believable green spaces will become more important. Instead of relying on occasional camping trips or the traditional suburban backyard, people will be interacting with family and friends in communal spaces such as parks and gardens. According to Dr. Myers, the very best parks encourage people to relax and linger by creating an immersive experience: "One of the best examples is Hyde Park in Highgate... Because of the topography, once you are in it you feel quite immersed and away from the surrounding busy streets. If we think about nature as something that helps us escape our everyday stresses, that goes a long way in thinking about how we should design."
Image Source: WDG Photo/Shutterstock