Nature, Healthy to the Environment and You Essay
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Throughout time cities have been the gathering place of great thinkers and idealist who have moved our world forward. Being a place where many people who hold similar ideas may gather and form a community, city life brings inspiration and innovation to many common aspects of life such as art, technology, and pop culture. Without such urbanized areas the world may not have been home to the revolutionary ideas of great minds like James Joyce, Shakespeare, or even Einstein who was inspired by commuter trains (Lehrer par.
1). And yet, today’s modern cities have shifted from not only a metropolis of ideas but one that can be equally detrimental to one’s mind and health. The expanding urbanization and population within cities have torn down the natural environment and replaced it with a jungle of concrete. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces as humans have lived in for thousands of years, many cities have become crowded; surrounded by strangers, bustling cars, traffic, lights, and millions of different noises in a setting almost devoid of nature.
Imagine walking down a crowded sidewalk trying to maneuver around oncoming pedestrians, making sure to keep up with the ever fluctuating traffic flow and preventing yourself from being distracted by the many commercialized advertisement signs, posters, and billboards. Cars are backed up as far as the eye can see, blaring their horns and flashing their taillights as they inch forward. To many, it is common knowledge how exhausting the city life can be, but recent studies have shown just how drastically being in an urban environment can impair one’s mental capabilities. Consider everything that your brain has to keep track of and its no wonder why your brain would have a hard time keeping everything in memory, and remaining calm. The controlled perception needed to stay focused can be very taxing on our minds.
Settings similar to the above are an everyday experience in the United State’s most urbanized cities from New York to San Francisco; however, places like this aren’t just limited to the U.S. people all across the world are suffering. In fact, fifty years ago only 10% of the world’s population lived in cities. Those statistics have since changed to over 50% with an estimated 75% by the year 2050, accounting for the production of two-thirds of the world’s energy and carbon emissions, putting a strain on the environment’s sustainability of clean air. This increase in the use of economic resources and the production of pollution has led to a sharp increase of many diseases such as asthma which now affects nearly 1 in every 10 children living in the United States, or attention deficit disorder, which is much more apparent to those who live in urban environments rather than those in a more natural setting.
Marc G. Berman, a professor at the University of Michigan performed two experiments published in 2008 which tested the restorative effects on cognitive functioning of interactions within natural environments compared to more urbanized areas. For the first experiment students were given GPS receivers and were told to take a fifty-to-fifty five minute walk in either the Ann Arbor Arboretum (a park near campus) or to walk in downtown Ann Arbor. The students then took a psychological test of attention and working memory by repeating a series of three to nine numbers backwards. As a result, people who had walked through the city were in a worse mood and scored significantly lower on the test. In Experiment 2, participants viewed either pictures of nature or urban areas to further control each participant’s experience, which proved that merely viewing pictures of nature can have restorative beneﬁts.
Even the slightest glimpse of nature can be invaluable to those living in urban areas as they provide a mental break of relaxation. For example, patients with a view of trees, flower beds and other greenery outside their hospital window have been shown to recover more quickly than those without. In the same setting from an apartment building, residents have better self control while able to focus and relax more. Evidence proves that exposure to the natural world improves mental health. Thus, the answer to solving the adverse cognitive affects that urbanized areas place on our minds is for planners, ecologists, architects, and landscape-architects to work together to integrate nature into cities, possibly to even reinvent them.
City leaders should seek to plan large urban parks that include playgrounds, trails, picnic facilities, and gardens such as those in Central Park New York or the Parque Tres de Febrero located in Buenos Ares which is known for its lakes, rose gardens and city planetarium. Not only are these parks beautifully landscaped and allow city residents a place of relaxation, they may also encourage visitors from all over the region, resulting in economic growth. Of course, the benefit of extensive parks built inside urban areas does not stop there. They are ecological systems essential to filtering urban run-off and the improvement of air quality.
Another solution for improving the mental health of citizens and to the health of the city itself would be to integrate greenery into the streets and buildings, establishing a green environment within urban infrastructure. On a small scale, cities may integrate parklets to repurpose under-utilized parts of streets or roadways and provide a space for people to enjoy themselves or the company of others. Parklets are platforms built in parking lanes made to provide a welcoming area of practicality and visual aesthetics with benches, planters, bike racks, or even café tables. On a much larger scale, architects can work with engineers to build “green buildings” a structure that is designed to reduce the impact on the environment and human health by efficiently using resources, improving employee productivity, and reducing environmental degradation.
This is achieved through various techniques that take advantage of renewable resources (solar panels, green roofs, rain gardens, etc…) measures are taken to reduce energy consumption by allowing extra insulation within the confinements of the building which prevents air leakage while solar panels are implemented to lessen the need for electricity and energy cost during the day. One other key objective in green buildings is the conservation of water quality. By using fixtures such as low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads which manage water recycling and benefit the minimization of waste-water.
On the aesthetic side, biophilic design emphasizes harmony with natural features by integrating the environment with architectural design to create a place both pleasant and natural for people to work in. Due to its impact on human psychology, biophilic design plays a large role in health care while finding ways to cope with the the rates of technological progress compared to those of mental evolution. According to Biophilia expert Yannick Joye, “by including elements of ancestral habitats in the built environment, one can counter potential deleterious effects, which stem from this dominance, [of uniform/modernist environments], resulting in more positive effects and more relaxed physiological and psychological states.”
Green buildings, incorporated with biophilic design would not only decrease the impact put on our environment by creating a more self sustaining city with fresh air and improved amount of resources. It may also reconnect urban dwellers with the natural world away from the bustling cars and crowded city streets, fostering restoration, improve emotional well-being, and promote health.
Asladirt. “Taking Nature to the City.” Diss. N.d. The Dirt. 31 Mar. 2011. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. Berman, Marc G., John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan. The Cognitive Beneﬁts of Interacting With Nature. 12th ed. Vol. 19.PSYCHOLOG ICAL SC IENCE. 2008 Association for Psychological Science, 18 Feb. 2008. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. Lehrer, Jonah. “How the City Hurts Your Brain.” Boston.com. N.p., 2 Jan. 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. Urbanized. Dir. Gary Hustwit. Perf. Oscar Niemeyer and Rem Koolhaas. 2011. DVD. Web. Walker, Christopher. “The Public Value of Urban Parks.” Urban.org. Urban Institute, 24 June 2004. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.