“View cities as a part of nature”
What happens when the densification of cities increases while more and more green areas disappear? At this year’s national conference on housing, Bostadsmötet (15–16 May 2019), Terry Hartig, professor of environmental psychology, held the talk “Dense or green”, on the need to use land optimally while also considering the importance to human health of parks, green areas and other opportunities for experiencing nature.
Densification of cities is a way to save resources. More densely built cities reduce the need for transports using private cars while also reducing the need to use forests and farmland for housing and offices. At the same time, research shows that many people use nature as a place for psychological restoration and improved health.
“Looking at a wall does not offer much opportunity for restoration. We may be able to live and sleep in densely built cities, but when we want to relax and rest, many of us leave these areas to experience nature.”
People and nature
Terry Hartig demonstrated the value of psychological restoration in contact with nature by providing a few examples. He noted preliminary research results that point to the more densely built a living environment is, the greater the likelihood that a person owns a holiday cottage. For example, it is twice as likely for a person to have a holiday cottage in Sweden if they live in a multi-family building in a densely built up area in a larger.
Another example is from a new Danish study looking at nearly a million people that showed that children between 0 and 10 without access to green areas close to home are more likely to suffer from mental health problems later in life. Another example comes from the Netherlands. About 20 per cent of hotel reservations by individuals with the least green walking areas near their homes were related to a lack of contact with nature.
Three positive areas
“The positive impact of nature on people can be divided into three areas: reduction of negative health impacts, such as through filtering out particles from emissions and other air pollution; increased physical capacity, such as through play and physical activities; and psychological restoration, such as through relaxing after work and regaining the ability to focus.”
Terry Hartig pointed out that research on green areas has been growing in recent years.
“The need for research ultimately comes from the increasing densification of our cities and the decrease in opportunities for people to experience nature.”
View cities has a part of nature
The question is how cities can become more densely built to save resources while they also become greener so people can be happy and achieve psychological restoration.
“Nature can be represented in many different ways, such as by being able to see the sky, green roofs, parks, trees along streets or free-flowing water.
As an example that inspires while also raising many questions, Hartig pointed to Bosco Verticale, which is Italian for ‘vertical forest’ and the name for a pair of high-rise residential towers in Milan with approximately 900 trees on the towers’ balconies.
“We have to remember the people who live in cities. We can’t just focus on a technical solution. Don’t view cities and nature as in conflict; instead view cities as a part of nature.”
Find out more
- Nature – a good place to psychological restoration (researcher podcast with Terry Hartig in Swedish)
- Living in cities, naturally (article in the journal Science)
- The research programme “The Residential Context of Health”
- The research programme “Environmental influences on psychological restoration processes”