Access To Nature In Urban Areas Is Key To Healthier Living

Mental illnesses and mood disorders are more prevalent in urban areas partly due to reduced access to nature, according to a new study.

Researchers probed the rising tension between the critical role of urban areas and these cities’ debilitating aspects that disconnect people from nature – and even raise mental illnesses.

“There’s an enormous amount of disease largely tied to our removal from the natural environment,” warned study author Peter Kahn of University of Washington, citing that children in megacities grow up without seeing stars and achieving feelings of “awe, restoration and imaginative spark” from it.

In their perspective study, Kahn and Terry Hartig from Uppsala University in Sweden pointed to signs that cities can cause emotional and mental strain on their residents.

The little or no contact with nature is creating so-called “environmental generational amnesia,” coined by Kahn to describe how new generations are concocting new ideas of what is “environmentally normal” based on their childhood experiences.

Being unable to crawl through dirt as a child, for instance, may leave one unaware during adulthood of forest degradation or species endangerment.

The authors also emphasized the serious dangers of excess urban density, where many cities are unable to reach a certain necessary naturalness.

More than introducing nature into urban locations such as promoting natural light and gardenscapes, people should be able to interact with different elements and employ their senses. It’s about deeper engagement – like eating one’s lunch while sitting on the grass, they added.

The findings are detailed in the journal Science.

A separate study noted that the structure of cities may affect the weather and dispersal of air pollutants. And it’s more than just how active the cities’ transportation and other local activities are, but also the spaces between buildings as well as the way winds are channeled, to name a few.

Photo: Ethan Sztuhar | Flickr

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