Ah, the call of the wild! Or the park. Or just a patch of land with a tree on it.
Living in the city can be stressful (on top of smoggy), and all that concrete and confinement may be even worse for you than you realize.
Naturalist Edward O. Wilson introduced us to the biophilia hypothesis, which suggests that there is an instinctive bond between humans and other living systems, that we require exposure to this alt-world and that the more we have, the better we do.
Yes, there is solid evidence that exposure to nature can alleviate stress, improve functioning and benefit health, all of which have incredible implications for urban design.
So if you can’t move to the jungle, search out the tiny terrain owned by nature in the city – and go wild.
What the experts say
“The disconnection between children and nature is accelerating. That has huge implications for mental and physical health, for cognitive development and for the health of the earth itself. Parents and educators need to know about the body of knowledge that has emerged in the last 10 to 15 years that strongly suggests getting kids outside makes them healthier, happier and smarter. Studies show that in schools with outdoor classrooms, kids did better across the board. University of Illinois research shows that attention deficit disorder symptoms get much better with just a bit of contact with nature. It has to do with the way we pay attention. When we’re in nature, we’re using all our senses at the same time.”
RICHARD LOUV, author, Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, San Diego
“In the modern world, we reach a state known as ‘directed attention fatigue.’ Nature helps restore the ability to concentrate. There are activity implications and design implications. If you are able on the way to work to walk on a street that has trees or spend an extra few minutes in a park, that may help you in terms of functioning. So does having a view from your desk window. Nature also buffers the effects of stressors on kids, like getting picked on at school, having parents divorce or a grandparent die. Kids who had access to nature were less detrimentally affected by those types of events.”
NANCY WELLS, associate professor, department of design and environmental analysis, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
“Contact with nature is the most common trigger for peak experiences – everyday mystical experiences when you feel a wave of extraordinary happiness, a sense of deeper knowing or a flow of fluidity and smoothness in your life. As well, more contact with nature tends to develop love for nature. It might help people act in a more sustainable way.’’
JOHN V. DAVIS, department of transpersonal psychology, Naropa University, Boulder Colorado
“My work is physiological and shows that if people look at a garden or trees, they recuperate faster and more completely from stress. You can see it in the heart and brain within seconds, and in blood pressure within three minutes at the most. My work centres on hospitals. It has been shown in well-controlled scientific studies that viewing nature is extremely important for patients and leads to substantial improvement in clinical outcomes. The pain connection has been particularly strong.’’
ROGER ULRICH, Beale professor of health facilities design, Texas A&M University, College Station
“We have found that students involved in school garden programs have a better attitude toward the environment and, according to teachers, perform better in course work. In some cases, these are small herb or flower beds that the students take part in planting or caring for. It ranges from growing seeds in the classroom to having an outdoor space.”
SONJA SKELLY, director of education, Cornell Plantations, Ithaca, New York