Unraveling Urban Life and Space
There’s never been a better time to keep nature-health benefits at your fingertips if you're in the business of shaping outdoor spaces or activities for people. Health is on people's minds like never before as we fight COVID-19. You know all about nature-health benefits because you took my class, right? Even if you didn't (or if you can't remember everything), here’s a two-minute pocket reference, yours to bookmark and share.
Specific to the pandemic, peaceful natural areas, especially vegetation and water, can help with several of those pesky underlying conditions that make us high-risk for infection, serious illness, and death. Research has shown that being around such areas measurably lowers stress indicators in the body, like cortisol levels and blood pressure. Other studies have found associations between nature exposure and lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and inflammation. Some studies have even found improvement in immune system function. Like the immune system function we need to fight off this virus, for example.
Speaking of extreme relevance: time in natural environments can also reduce anxiety and depression, as well as mental fatigue and even full-blown PTSD. Who couldn’t use that right now? Here’s a handy list of those benefits, from my book-in-progress:
Mental Health benefits of urban wilds
(from "Wild and Healthy" in Design by Deficit: Neglect and the Accidental City)
A couple things to remember about this research:
If you need more information about any of these benefits:
Here’s a good readable article suitable for distributing to your clients.
Here’s an authoritative journal article for those who want more science in this.
And here’s a comprehensive resource about benefits of nature for cities from the University of Washington, College of the Environment, with an extensive bibliography for further reading as well as a really readable guide to benefits.
Seeing a lot of talk about whether temporary bike and pedestrian lanes like this will last. Is it a new day for bikes on the American street?
No. People want desperately to go back to pre-pandemic normal, and “normal” is not having half your street blocked off for bikes. But-
Yes. We are getting a new day for bikes from the pandemic. Just not that particular new day.
Cars look expendable, more than they have in decades. All these (temporarily) closed lanes say that, but so does the reduced overall traffic volume and all of us staying home and not driving to the closed restaurants and shops. Suddenly we can do without cars, at least some of the cars, at least some of the time. What we can’t do without is all the essential supermarket clerks and warehouse workers and hospital staff who’ve been on the job since March. How many of these essential folks drive a private car to work versus taking a bus, riding a bike, or sharing a ride? Isn’t “essential” transportation what gets essential workers to work and back? The stockbroker’s car sitting in the garage looks irrelevant by comparison.
A monster recession (or maybe a depression) is looming or already here, depending on whether you’re still employed or not. Hard times mean expendable expenses tend to get expended, budget-wise. Cars are expensive to own, to maintain, to drive, and to insure. Suddenly that fixed cost in the household budget doesn’t look so fixed. Cash-strapped local governments might see it that way, too, if reduced traffic can mean less road maintenance and repair. Bikes and pedestrians put far, far, far less wear on pavement and other infrastructure, so maintenance costs are much less, a drop in the bucket compared to maintaining roads for cars.
Chaos always brings with it opportunities, and we surely are living in chaotic times. When everything is turned upside down, the status quo can lose its momentum and new ideas can look surprisingly plausible. Maybe the expendable car is here to stay.
Assorted drafts, previews, and outtakes from the book I'm currently writing about the impact of vegetation and neglect on urban life. I also take other thoughts for a test drive here, including nascent design and research ideas.