Urban Living: How Restoring Ecology in Urban Environments Benefits You

In an accelerating world, we often have to remind ourselves to stop and smell the roses. If you live in an urban environment as I do, smelling the roses might be a hard thing to come by. With 55% of the world population living in urban environments, the closest roses we may encounter might be at the nearest convenience store (“UN World Population” 2018). The depletion of the natural environment and global climate changes have encouraged many people to interact and immerse themselves in nature. By 2050, the “UN World Population” (2018) projects that 68% of the world’s population will be living in urban environments. Unfortunately, our natural habitats and ecosystems suffer to accommodate human living spaces. Despite growing urban concentrations, many cities are recognizing the need for natural spaces because of the benefits nature has to humans. 

Psychological Benefits

Mental fatigue can come from many sources. The daily stresses of work or school often take up a lot of our time and energy.. It has become harder to disconnect from our daily stresses with our addiction to technology. Work can  continue at home with emails flooding our in-boxes. Architecture in urban living often creates an environment that becomes dull and lifeless in the hustle and bustle of a moving city. What are urban places offering in their urban settings in order for us to disconnect with the busy life that city life offers and how are they reconnecting us back to a source of distressing.

Mental fatigue and stress are common feelings that many experience in their daily lives. Relaxation is the optimal feeling that people tend to strive for during moments like these. Architecture in urban living often creates an environment that becomes dull and lifeless in the hustle and bustle of a moving city. Mental fatigue and stress can have detrimental side effects on one’s overall health. 

 A study of 390 participants in 13 urban communities in France explored how urban ecology might lead to psychological benefits. It found that urban green spaces commonly provided “recovery from mental fatigue”  (Bergerot, Burel, Grandbastien, and Hellier 2020). Fortunately, mental health is frequently being discussed in communities across the globe. 

Nature is being recognized as an important resource that people need to restore themselves and achieve some form of relaxation. 

Architects and city planners are beginning to create ways in which humans can find an oasis in a fast past setting by creating urban green spaces near residents. Mental fatigue and stress can have detrimental side effects on one’s overall health.  

chicago millennium park
environment.yale.edu

Physical Benefits

When stress is not relieved, we can find ourselves with physical ailments. Some common symptoms include headaches, lack of sleep, muscle pain, upset stomach, and cardiovascular diseases (Mayo Clinic, 2019). Studies have shown that people who have had greater exposure to nature tend to have better indicators of physical health, including a boosted immune system, decreased risk for cardiovascular disease. Kuo (2015) found that “11 major categories of disease was at least 20% higher among individuals living in less green surroundings. But promoting a healthy lifestyle in urban areas can be difficult when there are no green spaces to actively participate in. 

Urban green spaces not only provide people the chance to escape the daily stresses that life may present but allow us to tend to our physical needs. Restoring ecology in urban areas can provide improvement in connections with wildlife animals. In recent years, companion animals are becoming essential tools in aiding the recovery and health of patients, students, and individuals alike. Although these animals are is different settings, what is to be said regarding wildlife animals? 

A review by Adams (2005),  suggests promoting animal wildlife in urban green spaces by lessening the damage done to their environment. There has been a connection between animal association and its contribution to the reduction of heart disease, high blood pressure, and anxiety (Adams 2005). Overall, the interaction with wildlife can help in the reduction of common illnesses. 

Urban green spaces and restoring the natural ecology for animals promote healthy ecosystems. Migratory patterns are often disrupted by urban life. Implementing larger urban green areas and bringing native spaces for these animals allows for natural wildlife to thrive. Promoting environments like this helps with the reduction of emerging infectious diseases (Buttke, Decker, & Wild 2015). By constraining natural habitats and spaces, wildlife animals are forced to become in closer contact with humans on a more frequent basis. Positive health effects can come from the contact between wildlife and humans. The goal of creating a balanced system is to not constrain areas, but to provide a space that is large enough to allow the positive interaction between people and wildlife. 

Providing spaces for people and animals to interact in the same realm facilitates benefits. For example, Buttke et al. (2015) explain that contact with butterfly populations promote a reduction in stress and anxiety in humans. But since their migratory patterns are disrupted due to lack of natural ecology, plants and humans are becoming negatively affected. 

Examples of Restoration Efforts:

A Green Hairstreak butterfly. Photo by gailhampshire, CC-BY.

Major cities are beginning to tackle these issues through various city-wide programs that promote human benefits and environmental benefits. San Francisco has a program called Nature in the City where people of all ages are being educated on urban wildlife and how humans and wildlife all benefit from one another. Their restoration efforts have helped the iridescent Green Hairstreak butterfly from local extinction by working with local neighbors on the ecological restoration of 11 sites to recreate the Green Hairstreak Corridor. Another major city that continues to make strides is Chicago. Through their partnership with Lincoln and Brookfield Zoo and the various Museums throughout the city, Chicago has been leading the charge on adapting to a growing city and how urban ecology can benefit its residents. A Chicago based program called Biohabitats has expanded into cities across the country working on restoring urban ecology and various other projects. Their goal is to reconnect communities with the natural world. In Chicago, they have worked on restoring the inner cities waterfronts and waterways. Their main project in the Chicago area has been working on the restoration of the Great Lakes. Working on the Lake Michigan shoreline, Biohabitats has helped work on restoring the natural structure for people to be able to access more on the waterfront and also enjoy the Chicago River with the new Riverwalk. Creating spaces for both wildlife and humans to benefit from one another. 

Conclusion:

With urban green spaces and restoring natural ecology being promoted throughout major cities, residents and visitors will be able to more than just stop and smell roses. City planners and residents alike can create a change not only for the benefit of people but an entire interaction between ecosystems. Providing safe spaces for communications to take place allows for mental and physical benefits. Merely sitting in a natural environment provides for mental energy to improve and mental fatigue to subside. This allows for a restoration of not only ecology but yourself as well.  

References

Adams, L. W. (2005). Urban wildlife ecology and conservation: A brief history of the discipline. Urban Ecosystems8(2), 139–156. doi: 10.1007/s11252-005-4377-7

Buttke, D. E., Decker, D. J., & Wild, M. A. (2015). The Role Of One Health In Wildlife Conservation: A Challenge And Opportunity. Journal of Wildlife Diseases51(1), 1–8. doi: 10.7589/2014-01-004

Elmqvist, T., Setälä, H., Handel, S., Ploeg, S. V. D., Aronson, J., Blignaut, J., … Groot, R. D. (2015). Benefits of restoring ecosystem services in urban areas. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability14, 101–108. doi: 10.1016/j.cosust.2015.05.001

Kuo, M. (2015). How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01093

Meyer-Grandbastien, A., Burel, F., Hellier, E., & Bergerot, B. (2020). A step towards understanding the relationship between species diversity and psychological restoration of visitors in urban green spaces using landscape heterogeneity. Landscape and Urban Planning195, 103728. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2019.103728

Pickett, S. T. A., & Cadenasso, M. L. (2007). Linking ecological and built components of urban mosaics: an open cycle of ecological design. Journal of Ecology0(0). doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2007.01310.x

Standish, R. J., Hobbs, R. J., & Miller, J. R. (2012). Improving city life: options for ecological restoration in urban landscapes and how these might influence interactions between people and nature. Landscape Ecology28(6), 1213–1221. doi: 10.1007/s10980-012-9752-1

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