If you live in a concrete jungle, it might be hard to find green spaces. Those are public areas in a city covered, at least partly, with grass, trees, shrubs, or other plants.
Research shows they boost your overall well-being. That includes your physical and mental health. Interacting with greenery can help your whole community by providing cultural and socioeconomic benefits, too.
Here’s a look at green spaces and their health benefits – and why some groups have more access to them than others.
What Is a Green Space?
It’s an area of grass, trees, or other plants set apart for recreation or pleasure in an otherwise urban setting. That includes forests, parks with walking or biking lanes, tree-shaded neighborhoods, community gardens, backyards, and vacant lots.
Ideally, they’re a short walking or driving distance from where you live and free to access. They give you a break from congested urban areas. They allow you space to stretch out, breathe clean air, and engage with nature.
How Can Green Spaces Improve Physical Health?
Lots of studies show that green spaces can improve your health now and in the long run.
To start, they encourage active lifestyles like walking, running, and other exercise. This leads to:
- Lower odds of obesity or being overweight
- Improved heart health
- Lower risk for diabetes
- Lower risk for high cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Longer life
Green spaces can boost your immune system. Time in nature can improve your exposure to microorganisms that are beneficial to your gut health.
In addition, they help towns and cities be safer and more livable. What does this mean?
The steel, concrete, and asphalt used to build streets, buildings, and such can trap heat. This can cause cities to have higher temps (by a couple of degrees) compared to areas outside cities. Experts call this the “urban heat island effect.”
But trees bring down heat by creating shaded, cooler spaces in urban areas. In fact, shade under a tree can be 5 to 10 degrees cooler than its surrounding area.
Green spaces also create areas with lower noise and air pollution. For example, one study found that trees inside a city filtered hundreds of tons of toxic matter and chemicals like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide. This makes the air safer to breathe.
Can Green Spaces Help My Mental Health?
Absolutely. Having access to green spaces has many psychological benefits. Research shows that time in nature can help:
- Lower your stress
- Reduce your anxiety
- Lessen your depression
- Ease your mood disorder
- Lower rates of substance abuse
- Improve your concentration and focus
- Increase your feelings of calm
- Recharge you emotionally
Recent studies also found that even looking at nature and greenery through a window or from a terrace can lower your blood pressure and anxiety levels.
In fact, the longer you’re exposed to green spaces, the more likely you are to have better mental health.
One study found that children who have access to green spaces are less likely to have mental illness in their teen and adult years.
What Are the Social Benefits of Green Spaces?
Reduced overall crime. Well-maintained green spaces, accessible to everyone, are linked to lower crime and violence in surrounding areas. One study found that they increased local pride, which helped cut down on litter and graffiti. Studies also link green spaces to less overall psychological stress in those living near them.
Increased workplace productivity. Research shows that being able to work in spaces with more plants, a view of nature, or access to green spaces during work breaks can improve overall morale and work productivity.
Green spaces also increase safe driving on nearby roads and boost local businesses located near them.
Why Green Space Access Isn't Equal for Everyone
While there are clear benefits of green spaces, not everyone has equal access to them.
Low-income and marginalized communities, especially those with people of color, often have few or no green spaces. People living there often have little to no access to them, either.
Green spaces are more easily found in neighborhoods where residents are white and have higher incomes. Reasons why include barriers like segregated city planning, zoning laws, lack of transportation, social class, and racism.
Benefitting from green spaces might also be harder for those living with physical and learning disabilities and developmental delays. That’s because uneven surfaces and the lack of wheelchair or stroller-friendly lanes can make some of them hard to navigate.
Making Green Spaces a Priority
To help promote green spaces where you live:
- Reach out to your local or regional landscape planning communities to ask about their policies or vision for green spaces.
- Look up community gardens you can join, or see if you can start one near you.
- Research native plants in your area that bear fruits or flowers, and plant some around your living space.
- Go on a field trip to a local park with your friends and family.
- Look for vacant lots or unused areas in your neighborhood. Check with local authorities to see if you can plant trees or grass for everyone to use.
- Work with your community leaders to create inclusive green spaces. Encourage them to prioritize the needs of your community.