Researchers have found that green spaces with greater ecological diversity
are particularly beneficial for our mental health. Professor Jorgensen who works at the University of Sheffield highlighted the importance of “experiences of nature – including diverse trees, plants and wildlife.”

Across the world increasing numbers of people are moving to cities and 80% of the UK population already live urban lifestyles. By 2050 around two out of three people are predicted to live in urban areas. As things stand, this massive growth in urbanisation is expected to bring increased social and health inequalities. Meanwhile we’re seeing a collapse in wildlife numbers and diversity, especially in the city.

What if there was a single change that could improve health and wellbeing, enhance social cohesion and help the environment? The jargon term for the answer is ‘urban green space’, which includes places like public parks and other less obvious resources like street trees and green roofs.

There are various ways we can encourage these good things, such as improving our urban green spaces.

Since over 2.5 million people in the UK live more than a 10-minute walk from the nearest green space, we need other options, like greening the streets. Roadside trees and flowers have been shown to encourage exercise and reduced illegal dumping, More trees and flowers are great for wildlife too, typically bringing more bird species to the neighbourhood.

Every city has vacant lots, neglected overgrown spaces, sometimes used for illegal dumping. As you might expect, there are usually more vacant lots in
poorer neighbourhoods, but these blighted places can become green beacons of hope, improving the health and wellbeing of local people and boosting biodiversity. One long term study in the USA – conducted over 10 years – found that greening vacant lots could have a dramatic impact on its residents. There were significant reductions in gun crimes and vandalism, while local citizens exercised more and felt less stressed. Similar studies found a reduction in the heart rate of local people and improvements in biodiversity in deprived urban areas. Turning vacant lots into green space can also create wildlife corridors across the urban landscape, helping to enhance local biodiversity.

Research has found that spending time in nature can help with a wide range of illnesses including diabetes, cancer, obesity, migraines and many more. Perhaps it’s no surprise that living in a greener neighbourhood improves life expectancy. Maybe you’ve read in The Hourglass about how beneficial nature connection is for our health.

Yet, the value of our green spaces are often underestimated: in the UK they provide over £34 billion worth of health and wellbeing benefits. Urban green spaces are multifunctional, because they don’t just improve our health and well-being; they can cut crime, reduce fly-tipping, help overcome social exclusion and improve wildlife diversity. Once again we see that when nature thrives, we do too.

by DR ADRIAN HARRIS @dradrianharris

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