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The Power of Green

It’s not breaking news anymore that greenspace is good for us. Ever since the publication of landmark studies some decades ago showing that exposure to natural environments can promote healing, reduce stress, and improve mood, we’ve known that exposure to natural environments, even just for a few minutes, can exert a powerful impact on our minds and on our bodies. Many scientists, including those of the Urban Realities Laboratory, are making sure progress in understanding exactly how this link is made and what elements of natural vistas promote these so-called restorative effects.

What’s more exciting these days is that we are beginning to close the loop between the beneficial psychological effects of exposure to natural elements in cities and important societal concerns. demonstrated important linkages between urban tree cover and public health. In a study conducted in Toronto—a city with good overall proportions of urban treescapes, Berman’s team showed that residents of areas of Toronto with greater proportions of trees in the street enjoyed both greater self-perceptions of health but also lowered incidence of debilitating conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The team even went so far as to put dollar and lifespan numbers to the effects of urban trees, suggesting that the addition of 10 or more trees to a city block had the same health-giving effect as a reduction of 7 years from the ages of the residents or an increase in median income for a neighbourhood of about $10,000. Although it’s not always a great idea to reduce the psychological amenities of a city to dollars and cents—after all most of us would agree that good health and happiness have value that far transcends cold economic variables—there’s little doubt that hard evidence for the financial impact of urban tree-planting will help to give ammunition to city builders in their quest to put hard-won public dollars in the places where they’ll do the most good for the citizenry.

There’s still much work to be done to understand how best to plan and organize urban greenspaces for maximal health and psychological effects. One intriguing finding from the Berman study, for example, was that trees planted in public areas had much stronger effects than landscaping in private backyards. Presumably, this effect relates to the fact that we are likely to feel the positive effects of “public” trees while we are away from our own sheltering domiciles and out in the rough seas of urban life.

One of the issues that we’ll be exploring at Psychology on the Street is the neurological impact of exposure to urban greenspace. By joining us on one of our walks, you’ll be able to explore some of these effects first-hand as we measure your stress levels and brainwaves in a variety of different types of urban locations, some much greener than others.

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