Green space in cities has a much greater role than simply decoration.

 

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Image source: creativequarter.com

In a recent survey, 91% of the public believe that parks and public spaces improve their quality of lives. Of those of us living in cities, we can spend a huge amount of our day sat on public transport and then sat at our desks, so it’s not surprising that having spaces to escape to can help us relax. Green spaces can provide the obvious natural benefits such as clearer air, and pleasantly scented flowers, but also create environments where we are more likely to exercise. None of this is more apparent that in parks; people prefer these to exercise in. You’re more likely to see people running in parks and along canals than through the city centre. 

 

Green infrastructure cannot only provide physical benefits but also has positive impacts on mental wellbeing.

For office workers the stresses of the city can have an affect on work, Stephen Kaplan in The Restorative Environment writes that our increasingly information exploded culture is leaving us mentally fatigued, and that instead of resting more, we are working more. Kaplan calls for something to be done about this, arguing that nature can benefit the city, and therefore people, ‘Certainly if there were a way to reduce the overall level of mental fatigue in the population, it would be worth a substantial investment to do so’. Kaplan argues the following problems are expressed in people when they become mentally fatigued, many of which have potential negative implications for the city: 

- they have difficulty concentrating and are highly susceptible to distraction;
- find it difficult to make decisions;
- are impatient and inclined to make risky choices; 

- are irritable and less likely than usual to help someone in distress
- have difficulty either planning or carrying out previously made plans.  

Here’s where it may get a bit sciencey… exposure to nature has been shown to have an effect on our means which can de-stress us, something called the Attention Restorative Effect. Green spaces provide a place of calmness and tranquility away from the noise, traffic and pollution of urban environments, and exposure to green space is one of the fastest ways to alleviate stress levels Natural environments abound with “soft fascinations” which a person can reflect upon in “effortless attention”, such as clouds moving across the sky, leaves rustling in a breeze or water bubbling over rocks in a stream, can relax our minds, and therefore the more places we can create opportunities like this, the better. Exposure to green space during a lunch hour could vastly improve motivation and energy levels. Overall those who regularly access green space report to sleep better, are happier and lead overall healthier lifestyles.

 

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In Nottingham we are lucky to have close access to places such as Victoria Park, the Arboretum the Castle and the Park for a green escape! But there is still plenty of opportunity to best exploit some of our other unused spaces, such as creating urban gardens, green roofs and terraces and pocket parks.