With all the attention paid to road maintenance, waste management and other municipal priorities, it's easy to overlook the importance of urban parks and greenspace. And yet they are crucial to maintaining our mental and physical wellbeing, and to strengthening the social fabric of a thriving city.
Studies have shown that encounters with the natural world are beneficial, whether it's a walk in the woods, a few moments sitting in the shade of a large tree, or taking your children to watch ducks dabble in the river.
Time spent enjoying the outdoors leads to measurable decreases in depression and stress among people of all ages. Educators believe it promotes children's intellectual and emotional development, fosters imagination and creativity, and helps them build social relationships. It has also been shown to reduce symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
In dementia patients, spending time in a garden improves cognitive function and reduces agitation and aggressive behaviour. Speaking of gardens, community plots provide not only nutritious produce, but also opportunities for social interaction — two health benefits in one!
In short, parks and other open public spaces offer opportunities to rest, relax, play, get some exercise and make friends, all of which deliver physical and psychological benefits. That's good for everyone, regardless of your economic or social status, level of education, or stage of life.
Considering the many positive effects, it's unfortunate that parks and natural areas are thought of by many as good, but not essential; nice, but perhaps less important than filling potholes — especially if that pothole is on your street and you already have a spacious backyard in which to putter around.