In today’s world, cities seem to be forever expanding. Corporate, modern offices, high-rise apartment buildings and packed-in-like-sardines homes are now the norm. While there’s no doubting the benefits of city living, this boom in concrete living means that those of us in urban and city areas are forced to face the prospect of living in residential environments with poorer quality or quantity of green space. It is a well known fact that most large cities have microclimates, whereby the inner city area is a couple of degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside. Urbanisation results in changes in natural water flow, carbon cycles, biodiversity and air pollution levels, which ultimately results in these microclimates forming.
Cities in Australia and around the world are realising the impact that urbanisation - and subsequent lack of nature - is having on climate change, pollution and human health and are increasingly working on 'green’ initiatives to counteract the negative effects. However, these initiatives can only happen so fast.
There are so many benefits to bringing nature closer to home, but sometimes we need to take things into our own hands. Having nature in your life is highly important and small lifestyle changes can make a massive impact both to your personal health and the health of the Earth.
The Benefits of Living Close to Nature
There are many studies, sources and evidence that support the notion that nature in urban areas can benefit our mental and physical health. Not only that, but increased greenery in our cities can help minimise the negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.
Lower stress levels
An American study conducted in 2008 found that workers who had even a small glimpse of a park or green area were significantly less stressed at work and were much more satisfied employees. So imagine the impact of bringing nature inside your home or office!
What is more, it has been proven that an increase in greenery positively correlates not only with less stress at work, but decreased anxiety and depression.
Reduce mental fatigue
Urban centres literally never sleep - there’s always something going on. With all these noises and distractions, city life can be incredibly tiring on both the body and mind. We now know that the constant stimuli offered by cities can actually dull the mind’s ability to think. But, the good news is that even brief interactions with natural environments have been proven to help reduce mental fatigue and restore your mind to a healthy state.
Long-term mental health
The University of Exeter found that greener surroundings in urban areas boosted residents’ mental health and happiness in the long-term, even after they moved away from the area. So even if you are planning on moving out to a more rural area in the near future, you can benefit your mind in the long term.
Recover from illness
That’s right - green areas help people prevent and recover from disease and illness; they also provide opportunities for physical activity, which in turn supports active lifestyle and reduces diseases including obesity - one of the developed world’s leading killers.
What is more, ailments like heart disease, neck/shoulder/back/wrist problems, diabetes, respiratory infections, migraines and even stomach illnesses can all be positively impacted by green spaces.
Green Solutions for City Living
The benefits are clear, but when you’re living in a city where the number of parks and nature reserves are largely controlled by powers much larger than ourselves, it can seem impossible to green-up our lifestyles. But is it really?
Spruce Up Your Backyard
Not everyone in the city has a backyard, but if you’re lucky enough to have one, you can go green-crazy! Don’t just think of it as somewhere to plant some trees - turn it into a garden retreat. Create your own organic vegetable garden, grow herbs and introduce some evergreen plants to keep your space thriving all year round.
To maximise your space, add walls, fences and other borders, which are perfect for increasing the amount of greenery you can add; climbing plants are amazing at turning a concrete view into a tropical oasis.
Create a Balcony Garden
Don’t have a backyard? No worries! If you have a balcony or rooftop you can have a flourishing mini-garden. The key to a perfect balcony garden is to choose plants that suit the size of the space and will flourish in the climate of your balcony. For example, if you get a lot of sunlight throughout the day you should look for plants that can survive constant sunshine such as sunflowers, lavender and petunias. Vegetables and fruit that enjoy lots of sunshine include tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and peppers.
Again, if your balcony or roof has limited space, try incorporating wall plants, hanging plants, vines or even tall potted plants to maximise your space. A good balcony garden doesn’t mean you need to completely cover it in plants!
Go Green Indoors
Did you know that indoor air can be much more polluted than outdoor air? One of the wonderful benefits of having plants indoors is that they can help to purify the air and make you feel more relaxed overall. In the late 1980’s, NASA studied the benefits of indoor plants for removing volatile organic compounds from air and found that certain plants worked better than others, including aloe vera, gerber daisy, golden pothos and spider plants.
Even if you have no balcony or garden, you can still bring nature indoors and benefit from its positive impacts. There are numerous plants that thrive indoors and in low light areas. Indoor plants such as ferns, dracaena, peace lilies and small palms are ideal. You can also create an indoor organic herb garden, which is perfect for those that enjoy cooking and want fresh herbs to hand.
Start a Community Garden
Approach your council or building management about starting a community garden. You’ll need to consider who will be involved in maintaining the garden and what types of plants you want to grow. These gardens are also great social experiences, allowing you to get to know your neighbours and others in your local area.
If there is any unused space in your neighbourhood, you can also talk to the council about turning it into a green space that can benefit your whole community. Types of green spaces include: parks/pocket parks, playgrounds, green corridors (connecting pathways, cycleways), sporting areas and BBQ/picnic areas. While they might have grass on them, they could be even greener - ask about planting trees and shrubbery to maximise the oxygen output. So the more variety the better!
Top takeaway tips
- Choose plants that will grow / thrive in your space and climate; remember, city climates can often be much warmer than those outside of the city;
- Keep your gardens maintained and manicured to sustain their benefits; water your plants regularly and keep them nutritious with good soil and fertiliser;
- Including herbs, vegetable plants and fruit trees in your space is also a great way to support sustainable living; again, choose herbs/plants that you know will grow well in your particular environment.
By creating green spaces around us, even in the smallest of ways, we can sustain the benefits of nature when living in huge, concrete cities. And by doing this we can enrich our lives, mentally, physically and emotionally – while also giving something back to the greater natural world that surrounds us.
Are you ready to greenify your life?
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