Societal eco-healing describes the efforts of nations, states, cities, and groups to assure their populations access to nature. Such efforts contribute to healthier communities and work forces, promote neighborhood interactions, and increase happiness (Kuo, 2010).
Parks and recreation areas remain the most important ways a society encourages the health and wellbeing of its members by providing access to green exercise and time in nature, which has been shown to reduce blood pressure, respiration rate, and the production of stress hormones (Park, et al, 2010; Hartig, et al, 2003; Orsega-Smith, et al, 2004). Even the small act of planting trees and shrubs in neighborhoods can have a large impact on health. Communities also turn to nature in an effort to provide healthy food.
Societies are beginning to recognize the reciprocal relationship between the natural environment and human health and human actions and the health of the natural environment. Organizations and governments are instituting policies and practices such as recycling, retrofitting buildings, reducing fossil fuel use, using renewable energy, driving in carpool lanes, and reducing waste to address environmental health.
Nature can teach us everything.
Green Space Changes Neighborhoods
Somali immigrants Amir and Madar lived next to noisy, smelly, industrial factories, so their apartment was often filled with dust and grime. Petty crime was also rampant, so Madar kept the children inside after school. When the couple learned that a non-profit was trying to sponsor a small park with trees and bushes in their area, Amir began working on its behalf.
After the park was complete, the neighborhood began to change. Neighbors had a safe place to sit and walk. Children enjoyed actively playing and creating innovative games suited to the small area. Pride in the community grew. Not only was the park kept clean, but people started using the previously ignored trash cans to throw out their refuse. Graffiti began to disappear. Although the pollution remained a problem, Amir and Madar developed a sense of belonging and felt empowered to make positive changes in their neighborhood.
Nature and Work. Research suggests that even indoor plants, or a photograph or painting of nature, can increase your wellbeing and productivity (Berman, et al, 2008; Largo-Wight, et al, 2011). Put a favorite nature picture or plant in your workspace for at least one month. Take a few moments every day to enjoy what you’ve placed. Has your sense of productivity or wellbeing improved?
Conversation. Create a list of 8-10 ways green spaces benefit society. Have at least one conversation about your list with a friend or friends.
Gratitude. Look up what department in your town or city is responsible for green spaces or nature beautification projects (curbside gardens, planters, park paths, and so on). Write a letter of gratitude for their efforts.
Benefits from Parks. In a 2010 report, researcher Frances Kuo states, “The question is no longer, do people living in greener neighborhoods have better health outcomes? (They do.) Rather the question has become, do people living in greener neighborhoods have better health outcomes when we take income and other advantages associated with greener neighborhoods into account? The answer is ‘Yes, they do.’”
Kuo continues further, “While street trees, parks, and public green spaces are often regarded as mere amenities—ways to beautify our communities and make life a little more pleasant—the science tells us that they play a central role in human health and healthy human function” (Kuo, 2010).
Good Test Scores and Nature. Can nature’s presence really help student performance? Working with 101 Michigan high schools, researcher Rodney H. Matsuoka analyzed students’ academic achievement and behavior, based on their access to nature. Results showed that more exposure to nature was positively associated with test scores, graduation rates, number of students planning to attend college, and fewer criminal behaviors. These results may be attributable to both the enhanced physical health and increased self-esteem that interaction with nature provided (Matsuoka, 2010).
Economic Benefits. Several studies, including those led by Atchley (2012), Harnik (2009), Shoup (2010), and Tennles (2009), have explored the economic benefit of providing green spaces for the public. As the health problems related to sedentary lifestyles mount (childhood and adult obesity, depression, and stress), studies show that providing people with walkable neighborhoods, parks, and open spaces enhances health and creates financial benefits to local governments, home owners, and businesses. In addition to improved property value, more business revenue, and an increased tax base, these green areas bring in greater tourism, community cohesion, and clean air.
Atchley, R.A., Strayer, D.L., Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLOS ONE; 7(12), e51474.
Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1207-1212.
Hartig, T., Evans, G.W., Jammer, L.D., Davis, D.S. Gärling, T. (2003). Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. Journal of Environmental Psychology; 23, 109-123.
Health Council of the Netherlands. (2004). Chapter 8: research into impact on personal development and sense of purpose. Nature and Health: The Influence of Nature on Social, Psychological, and Physical Well-Being.
Harnik, P., Well, B. (2009). Measuring the economic value of a city park system. Washington, D.C., The Trust for Public Land, pg 10.
Kuo, F.E. (2010). Parks and other green environments: Essential components of a healthy human habitat. Report: National Recreation and Park Association. Active Living Research: Using Evidence to Prevent Childhood Obesity and Create Active Communities, Informative, active website associated with report.
Largo-Wight, E., Chen, W. W., Dodd, V., & Weiler, R. (2011). Healthy workplaces: The effects of nature contact at work on employee stress and health. Public Health Reports (Washington, D.C.: 1974), 126 Suppl 1, 124-130.
Matsuoka, R. H. (2010). Student performance and high school landscapes: Examining the links. Landscape and Urban Planning; 97(4), 273-282.
Orsega-Smith, E., Mowen, A.J., Payne, L.L Godbey, G. (2004). The interaction of stress and park use on psycho-physiological health in older adults. Journal of Leisure Research; 36(2), 232-257.
Park, B.J., Tsunetsugu, Y., et al. (2010). The physiological effects of shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine; 15(1), 18-26.
Research & Innovation: Environment, Website, European Commission, ttp://ec.europa.eu/research/environment/index_en.cfm.
Shoup, L., Ewing, R. (2010). The economic benefits of open space, recreation facilities and walkable community design. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-Active Living Research, pg. 28.
Tellnes, G. (2009). How can nature and culture promote health? Scandinavian Journal of Public Health; (37), 559.
TKF Foundation, Open Spaces, Sacred Places, Research on the role nature plays through nature oases in inner city areas.
Vowles, A. (2004). Guelph-Humber plant wall a breath of fresh air. University of Guelph; 48(17). Retrieved February 7, 2013 from: http://www.uoguelph.ca/atguelph/04-11-10/featuresair.shtml.
Wichrowski, M., Whiteson, J., et al. (2005). Effects of horticultural therapy on mood and heart rate in patients participating in an inpatient cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation; 25(5), 270-274.
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