By: Jamie Rae Walker, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist-Urban Parks, The Texas A&M University System
“A park is often considered an oasis of greenery in a concrete desert. For passersby as well as those who come into a park, its natural elements provide visual relief, seasonal change, and a link to the natural world.” —People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space
Attractive, proximate parks containing natural features can reduce the everyday stresses of urban life. Early urban leaders developed parks because they believed that parks provided physiological and restorative benefits to city dwellers. Research in the ensuing years has confirmed that interacting visually or physically with nature can improve a person’s health.
The results of various studies provide strong support that views of nature afford a broad range of both psychological and physical benefits. For example, research on surgical patients in a Pennsylvania hospital showed that the quality of the view from the window significantly affected their recovery. Compared to patients with a view of a brick wall, those with a view of trees had shorter hospital stays, took fewer pain medications, and had slightly fewer postsurgical complications.
In a study on stress-reduction rates, participants were exposed to a stressor and then asked to read, listen to music, walk in an urban area, or walk in a natural environment. Those walking in a natural environment recovered from stress faster than the other groups.
“People feel more satisfied with their homes, with their lives, and with their jobs when they have sufficient access to nature in the urban environment,” noted University of Michigan researchers in The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective.
Many people use parks for these reasons. For example, park users in London and San Francisco have cited rest, relaxation, and contact with nature as the primary reasons for visiting parks.
Qualitative analysis of Singapore residents’ perceptions of neighborhood parks provided multiple examples of the restorative or physiological benefits that they perceive they gained from having attractive, proximate parks. Respondents often described parks as places to:
- Calm down
- Forget their worries
- Regain sanity and serenity
One respondent said, “When I am in this park, I feel very relaxed and fresh, especially when you are surrounded with beautiful flowers, ponds, green and nice landscape.”
According to research cited in Parks and Other Green Environments: Essential Components of a Healthy Human Habitat, people who live in greener neighborhoods are physically and psychologically healthier than those who do not. These findings were true for all socioeconomic groups.
The studies found that greener environments enable our immune system to work better, help diabetics reduce their blood glucose levels, and improve older adults’ health and independent living skills.
Other researchers have reported that people in less green neighborhoods have higher rates of:
- Childhood obesity
- Fifteen of 24 physician-diagnosed diseases, including cardiovascular disease
- Deaths of younger and older adults
As cities in Texas continue to urbanize and develop residential growth in downtown areas, municipal leaders need to recognize the restorative and physiological values of green, open spaces and ensure that they are distributed appropriately across their community.
For more information
“Effect of Exposure to Natural Environment on Health Inequalities: An Observational Population Study.” By R. Mitchell and F. Popham. 2008. The Lancet.
The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. By S. Kaplan and R. Kaplan. 1989. Cambridge University Press.
Natural Land Management Practices. Online course. http://agrilife.org/webcourses/2014/05/02/trapsprofessional-development-courses/
Parkland Dedication Ordinances in Texas: A Missed Opportunity? By John L. Crompton. 2010. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. www.agrilifebook store.org.
Parks and Other Green Environments: Essential Components of Healthy Human Habitat. By F. Kuo. 2010. National Recreation and Park Association.
People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space. By C. C. Marcus and C. Francis. 1997. John Wiley and Sons: 89.
“Use and Experience of Neighborhood Parks in Singapore,” By B. Yuen. 1996. Journal of Leisure Research. 293–311.
“View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery.” By R. S. Ulrich. 1984. Science 224:420−421
“Visual Landscapes and Psychological Well-Being.” By R. S. Ulrich. 1979. Landscape Research, 4(1): 17−23.
With People in Mind: Design and Management for Everyday Nature. By R. Kaplan, S. Kaplan, and R. L. Ryan. 1998. Island Press.
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