We Need Green Spaces More Than Ever

Do you know that by 2050, 68% of people will reside in cities?

As our society gets more urbanized, we spend less and less time in green places, consequently missing out on the numerous benefits of being among nature.

Given that we are currently experiencing a climate crisis, it appears that both our well-being and the future of the globe are in danger.

Most of us have heard of the benefits that nature has to offer to us humans.

However, many people are unaware of how exposure to nature can benefit their day-to-day lives.

So how do these benefits apply to each and every one of us?

Why should we be concerned with the lack of urban green spaces?


Green Spaces As a Modern Escape:

We all experienced, at some point in our lives, the negative effects of the fast-paced and stressful environment of modern society.

So how can green spaces provide an escape for us? And why are these places important to us in this day and age?

The answer to these questions became clear to me after I started spending more time in green spaces.

When I was younger, I used to pass by a park in my neighborhood without giving it much attention; little did I know that this place would later become very important in my life.

 In my high school years, I used to skip school with my friends to spend time at the park. Although not the most productive thing to do, these were good times that I spent with my friends away from the noise of the busy streets.

In hopes of escaping the crowded cities, many people like me take refuge in urban green spaces, as the peace and tranquility these places offer are much needed to cope with stressful and accelerated life.

These places also represent a space where people can participate in different activities and interact with other individuals from their communities and outside of them.

Unfortunately, not enough people are exposed to the benefits that green spaces offer, as they are unavailable in many urban areas. In addition, a lot of people are unaware of how these spaces can benefit their lives.


How does nature benefit us? 

I am sure most of us felt that sense of clarity when spending time in nature. For some reason, being surrounded by trees, grass, or any expression of nature, feels good to us.

Being in the presence of nature not only feels good. But as many scientific studies pointed out, it has positive physiological effects on us.

A study conducted in Japan showed that walking in forest environments, and enjoying the scenery, can actually reduce cortisol levels, “the hormone responsible for stress.” (Park et al., 2010y).

Countless other studies have shown that exposure to nature can help with disorders such as depression and anxiety.

In addition to directly impacting our mental health, urban green spaces can indirectly influence our mood because of their social aspect. As humans, being part of a community makes us feel better. And in a society where loneliness and alienation are on the rise, urban green spaces can be a refuge for people who want to feel like they belong to a community, as they allow people to meet and interact with each other.

Studies have shown that the presence of urban green spaces helps develop a sense of community and social cohesion among the people that frequent the area surrounding the green space (Jennings et al.,2019)

Not only do these spaces positively impact our mental health, but they also promote a healthy lifestyle as they create an environment that improves access to clean air and encourages physical activities.

Urban green spaces also contribute to the reduction of the Urban Heat Island effect.

As defined by The United States Environmental Protection Agency (2022), “Urban heat islands” occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. This effect increases energy costs (e.g., for air conditioning), air pollution levels, and heat-related illness and mortality”.

In addition, spending more time in these spaces reduces exposure to noise pollution, which can be linked to the previously mentioned effects on mental health.

Other studies suggest that spending more time in nature can have positive effects on the immune system. (Kuo 2015).


Why are we indifferent? 

Despite these countless benefits, the majority of people around the globe seem indifferent when it comes to nature and green spaces.

This phenomenon manifests itself in various behaviors, such as littering, vandalism, and overall indifference toward the value of these places.

What is more concerning is that most people who demonstrate these behaviors are unaware that their actions are harmful in the first place.

This lack of awareness is most commonly seen in developing countries. This raises concern, as these countries are suffering the most from the climate crisis.

According to Lyndsay and Teo (2022), 189 million people per year are affected by extreme weather in developing countries.

So why are people indifferent to the value of nature and green spaces?

When it comes to environmental awareness, a variety of factors come to play, such as culture, education, and economic situation.

In developing countries such as my home country Tunisia, environmental awareness is not part of the mainstream culture as most people are more concerned with other issues, such as the economic or political situation.

Other people are either unaware or hopeless about the environmental situation, which makes it easy for the government and business owners to pollute for the sake of profit.


Now Is The Time For Action:

Everyone is aware that all living things rely on nature to exist. Due to our busy and stressful life, we barely have time to reflect on how much nature can benefit our individual lives. We are slowly losing nature to urban architecture. This is why it is important to start acting and raising awareness in defense of urban green spaces.

But most importantly, we need these spaces as we are facing a climate crisis.

It is absolutely crucial that our cities contain more green spaces as they have been associated with better mental health, lower mortality rates, less air pollution, and less heat and noise levels, in addition to providing habitat and shelter for a variety of animals.

Living in neighborhoods that offer no exposure to nature can contribute to a reduced life quality for the inhabitants. This is why we should work towards making these spaces accessible to most people, especially poor neighborhoods that suffer from poor infrastructure and need a healthy free place for social gatherings. It is also necessary to have green spaces in cities that suffer from high carbon emissions or high-temperature levels.

If we do not take a stand to protect these spaces against corporate greed and uncaring governments, more and more green spaces will be lost to other more profitable projects, leading to more pollution and health problems.

For these reasons and the countless other benefits already mentioned, we must work to increase the number of green spaces and preserve the already existing ones.


How can you start making a change? 

Regardless of the issue or cause, have you ever felt the need to take a stand, but for some reason, this feeling never manifested itself into reality?

Many people, including myself, feel this way. However, if we start small and stop overthinking about the result, we will be able to achieve much more.

In order to start tackling the environmental issue, one must begin at an individual level. The first step to ensure you are helping nature and the environment is to be responsible for your actions. So, how can you do that?

Here are a few practices that you can implement in your daily life : 

Conserve energy, unplug electronics, and turn off the lights when not in use.

Conserve water by using it prudently and swiftly fixing leaks.

Reducing garbage and recycling it wherever you can are the three R’s.

Limit single-use things; pick reusable items instead of disposable ones.

Select eco-friendly transportation: When possible, go for a walk, a bike ride, or take the bus or train.

Supporting green areas Protect and grow trees in natural areas.

Reduce pollution Utilize environmentally friendly items and appropriately dispose of hazardous trash.

Choose sustainable foods: Reduce food waste by consuming organic and locally sourced foods.

Educate and motivate. Share your expertise and encourage others to act.

Participate in community projects: Join local environmental organizations and take part in cleanup activities.

This can take the form of organizing community cleaning campaigns, attending municipality meetings to ensure that local decisions and projects are actually environmentally friendly, and overall acting as a community in order to preserve nature in a local area.

If most people stick to these practices, we can see a lot of change in our society. However, in order to increase our impact and to aid the communities that don’t have the means to improve their environmental situation, we can do volunteer work within organizations that have a wider reach, and we can offer donations if we have the means.


Your actions matter: 

 Coming back to my own experience with my local green space, I am currently a member of an environmental NGO that works to preserve this place and improve the conditions for the people that frequent it.

By merely taking the initiative, even on a small scale, we are able to bring change. This is why, even if our impact is relatively small in the big picture, our small steps will eventually have a bigger impact.

In conclusion, urban green spaces are of great value to us, especially in our modern society. And although the whole environmental crisis we are facing might seem like a lost cause, the best thing we can do is try and make a change, no matter how big or small the scale is., as our actions can inspire others which can lead to a positive butterfly effect.

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