Living in the big smoke isn’t easy. Take New York as an example.
Sure, you can enjoy the glitz and glamour, the culture and cuisine. But you’ll also need to endure things like traffic jams. Noise pollution. Regular pollution. And the many other stresses of city life.
Some of these stress factors are obvious – a screaming cab driver, for instance. Others are a little more subtle. Like living in a concrete jungle, going underground into the depths of its grey belly twice a day. Or being in a place where you’re constantly crowded by people – yet with a rising sense of isolation and anxiety that can sneak up on you before you know it.
But it can affect plenty of us. In fact, the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health estimates that city dwellers run a 40% chance higher risk of depression, 20% higher risk of anxiety and twice the risk of schizophrenia than their rural counterparts.
So what can those city dwellers do about it? How can they enjoy all the perks of city life – excitement, convenience and so on – without falling victim to its pitfalls?
This might be easier said than done. New York, of course, is a great place to connect with nature.
You have the banks of the Hudson River, the gorgeous elevated park known as The High Line on the West Side and of course, that endless green bounty called Central Park. But still, despite these great resources, there are huge sections of NYC without a splash of green. And for inhabitants of these areas, connecting with nature takes a considerable amount of effort.
Many cities in Asia are the same. Lots of scooters, lots of pollution, lots of chaos – not so much green space. Many of these cities have a water feature of some sort – a big lake, or a river – but since they’re still surrounded by beeping traffic or overrun with both tourists and touts… well, they’re not exactly relaxing!
In my humble opinion, the best thing a city can do is inject a little green – and by this, of course, I mean green space!
Not just one big park plonked in a place that’s not accessible to all – but several pockets, dotted in parks throughout the city. A place for families to play, for communities to gather, for everyone to destress and unwind.
Why should they be green spaces, specifically? Why not a few picnic benches in a courtyard, or a spot by the water? Well, I’ll tell you!
No matter how bad you’re feeling, you’ll be amazed at what a simple stroll can do. Because when you have space and surroundings to enjoy a walk, the world looks a lot brighter than when you first set off.
In fact, studies have shown that a walk in nature reduces rumination – the tendency to obsess over one’s mistakes, and a common feature in illnesses like depression and anxiety. So going for a walk in the park is just as simple as the phrase suggests – and it can do wonders for your mental health!
One of the biggest threats of city living is the isolation we can fall into so easily. (Like I said, you can be surrounded by people yet still feel completely alone.) Cut off from the world in your little box apartment, with no meaningful human interactions aside from perhaps the girl who serves you your coffee with a smile.
This is especially important for people who work for themselves, like the new breed of digital nomads about today. These people mainly work online – so they don’t have that connection with colleagues in the office and in fact might not encounter another soul in their day!
For them in particular, green spaces offer a place to connect with others – to look up at the world around them instead of into the screens of their phones or laptops. Whether that place is a park, a community garden or simply a few plants on their windowsill, the bit of green is a reminder to appreciate the world around them, rather than getting too caught up in their own stories.
Lady Greenfingers is always banging on about the importance of colour therapy. In fact, I don’t think she owns more than one item of black clothing!
Nope, she chooses bright yellows, electric blues and deep reds. Striking purples, vivid greens and cool shades of turquoise are her bag and the more multi-coloured patterns, the better!
Sure, she can sometimes give my colour-blind self a headache (!!) – but I’ve been there many a time when people stop her to tell her how much they love her colours. How her outfit brightens up the room.
Colour therapy is my fair lady’s way of lifting her mood. And – fortunately – it works!
So if colour therapy can work through people’s outfits, imagine all the benefits if we could apply it to our cities. Suddenly, drab and grey places could start bursting with colour. With life. With possibility and positivity. It might all sound very airy-fairy to you, but the phrase “rose-tinted glasses” came from somewhere! 😉
That’s why green spaces, filled with an assortment of plants, trees and flowers in different hues, can boost a street, a neighbourhood and an entire city. It’s colour therapy in action!
I’ve already mentioned the mental health benefits of green spaces in cities. But there’s plenty of physical perks, too.
For one, parks encourage recreation. (If you’ve never seen the hit series Parks and Recreation, do it now!) This recreation could include jogging, yoga, football – all those physical activities that are great for your body and mind.
What’s more, trees produce oxygen and help to filter out harmful air pollution – a definite benefit if you’re living in a city and good news for anyone with sinus or respiratory issues.
Green spaces in cities are pretty essential for a community’s health and happiness. They boost the physical and mental health of the individual. And they encourage harmony and growth of the collective – with a splash of colour thrown in to keep people smiling!
So if you’re in a city and you feel like you’re surrounded by grey, do what you can to bring a little green space into your life.
Whether that’s getting involved in your local community garden, trying your hand at windowsill herbs or enjoying a picnic in the park, get out there in the Great Outdoors – and feel great because of it!