My son is at the University of Toronto studying to be a landscape architect. I think this is one of the most important jobs in the city. At its root is a mission to connect an entire community through Nature. Parks, green spaces, street trees, and community gardens and paths facilitate physical activity, social contacts, and stress reduction.
In their article in Science, Terry Hartig and Peter Kahn argue that natural features, settings and processes in urban areas help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Street trees, green roofs, community gardens, open spaces, parks and bike paths all increase public health. “Such urban design provisions can also yield ecological benefits, not only directly but also through the role they play in shaping attitudes toward the environment and environmental protection,” they write.
These studies only support what we all know in our hearts: that spending time in natural environments or even viewing natural scenes lifts our spirits, improves our ability to direct attention, and helps memory and general cognition. Open your windows and let the air in. Smell the flowers. Listen to the birds singing or the wind rustling through the leaves. Find a stream and wade barefoot into it. Feel its current tug your legs in pulses. Step outside in a rainstorm and let yourself get soaked. Smell the freshness of the air.
My son teaches me about how communities connect and why certain urban features are more attractive and conducive to community than others. He has been teaching me a lot about the importance of the urban landscape in building meaning and connection in a community.
Kahn mentions building relevant interactions patterns in the city as key to building healthy connections: “Think about meaningful ways that you interact with nature, then characterize it in such a way that you could see the same thing happening with different forms of nature. That’s an interaction pattern. For example, it’s wonderful to walk along the edge of a lake or along a river. The pattern could be framed as walking along the edges of water. Once you can name that as an important ‘pattern’ you now have a design principle that can help you build city infrastructure to engender the interaction.”
Ma, Michelle. 2016. “Q&A: Peter Kahn on nature interaction, wildness in cities.” UW Today Blog, Environment, June 3, 2017.
Hartig, Terry & Peter H. Kahn. 2016. “Living in cities, naturally.” Science 20 May 2016, Vol. 352, Issue 6288, pp. 938-940.
Eisenman, T.S., Frederick Law Olmsted. 2013. “Green infrastructure, and the evolving city.” J. Plann. Hist. 12: 287-311.
Rouse, D.C., I.F. Bunser-Ossa. 2013. “Green Infrastructure: a landscape approach (planning advisory service report 571, American Planning Association, Chicago.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.