Pursuit have recently reported on how urban greening is emerging as a key part of the solution to some of our major health and environmental challenges. Providing nearby nature offers a surprising range of co-benefits.
By Dr Sara Barron, University of Melbourne and Dr. Kathleen L. Wolf, University of Washington
Cities around the world are facing major challenges. Industrialised nations are experiencing epidemics of chronic diseases like diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and dementia, and it would be all too easy to give up hope of finding solutions.
But there is positive news.
A growing body of research reveals that spending time outdoors in and around trees, parks and gardens can boost our physical and mental health and help prevent a wide range of diseases.
And just as multiple short bursts of physical activity can have the same benefits as one long exercise session, micro-doses of nature throughout the day really add up.
They found a need for practical evidence-based solutions that can be used by the people responsible for managing our urban spaces, including local government, developers or managers of large institutional campuses.
Here are their set of five scalable evidence-based urban greening interventions designed to increase urban green exposure during a typical day.
1. View from Within
Consider the view from within the building when implementing urban greening. Studies show that green views from buildings have restorative benefits. This intervention emerged from several psychological studies that show reduced stress or increased focus when viewing green through windows. Greenery that shades windows will also reduce a building’s energy use.
2. Plant Entrances
Does the building entrance have a welcoming green frame? Green entrances allow all building visitors to experience some nature in their day. Studies also show that greenery near entrances increases social interactions.
This intervention was inspired by studies on the social benefits of greenery near entrances in social housing projects. It was also inspired by the concept of Eco-acupuncture – the idea that small interventions can make large ripples through urban fabric.
Green entrances can also clean and cool air before it enters a building.
3. Bring Nature Nearby
Are there spaces near your building where people can relax while surrounded by plants? Nearby green spaces provide opportunities for those with limited mobility or time to take a break near nature.
4. Retain the Mature
When designing a landscape, it is important to keep older trees that provide aesthetic and emotional benefits. Studies show that people have a heightened response to large, mature trees.
This intervention was inspired by our ongoing research in a new suburban community where residents spoke about the loss of mature trees, and how they felt they hadn’t “made it” as a community because their neighbourhood lacked large canopy trees.
Large trees also provide exponentially higher ecosystem services like air filtering, cooling and CO2 removal, than smaller trees.
5. Generate Diversity
Have you measured the diversity of your landscape plants? Diverse plantings are more resilient to changes in climate and to new pests and diseases. Planting a diverse range of tree species protects against forest health risks and also provides aesthetic benefits.
Though a wide range of species is recommended, we need to be careful about using species that fall into the ecosystem disservices category, like high pollen producing trees that can affect people with allergies.