How does nature impact our wellbeing? Can parks help improve mental and physical health? These are the questions that I decided to focus on for this project. I chose this project because I’ve heard that nature can help improve mental health, especially when you live in cities, but I have never heard why it improves it. Which is why it is a good topic for me to research.
The site that I chose to focus on was Fort Greene. It’s a park along Washington Avenue which is only a few blocks from Pratt Institute. It’s a popular place for people to go to on a nice day and for people to walk their dogs through. Fort Greene has concrete paths throughout the park with many areas of grass on either side. It’s one of the few parks in Brooklyn.
Fort Greene gets a good amount of foot traffic after work hours and on the weekend. This could be particularly helpful to kids with ADD or ADHD as Erica Geis said in, The Trust for Public Land, “Researchers have recently discovered that children with ADD can concentrate on schoolwork and similar tasks better than usual after taking part in activities in green settings, such as walking through or playing in a park. And the greener a child’s play area, the less severe the symptoms.” (Geis, 15).
This specific site focuses on the environmental issues at hand. The reason I chose this area is that the variations in groups that come to this place. From families to young adults to those who just want alone time in the sun. It is a place for people to be social with others that they may not have met before. This park gives people the ability to escape the city and get some fresh air as well as a chance to escape from electronics.
If we added more parks throughout the city or even suburbs could it help people make a shift to different ways of living, such as going from an urban area to the city. The function of parks is similar throughout most parks. They are complex elements of a city. They act to define the shape and feel of a city and its neighborhoods. They also function as a conscious tool for revitalization. Parks provide intrinsic environmental, aesthetic, and recreation benefits to our cities.
Parks provide space for neighborhood residents to interact with each other and meet new people. They’re also great spaces for events and for people to engage in recreational activities. This allows people to develop a sense of community. A park is perfect for a picnic, a concert, or a farmer’s market. Increasing the number of parks and recreational facilities in a neighborhood also reduces crime rates, especially among youth.
By giving young people a safe place to interact with one another they keep them off the streets and out of trouble. The obvious functions of the space is as a playground, a place to walk a dog or just to pass through, but some important functions of the space are to provide access to physical exercise and mental relief. The use of a park for mental relief is often ignored or pushed into the same category as physical exercise, especially when it comes to yoga groups who use this space. Though for some yoga does provide mental relief. The users of this site can range from families to college students to elders.
Each one usually comes to the park to get out of the house, often for some fresh air and exercise. There could be some conflicts between the families and the young adults who do some form of yoga or meditation on the weekend due to loud children on the playground. Though the park is big enough for the families to stay in area of the playground and those seeking more peaceful quiet areas to stay separate. The priorities seem to focus on certain groups depending on the area of the park.
My observations of the sites went over three visits; one visit I spent about 6 hours at the park from morning to the mid afternoon, the second visit was on a weekday around 3 o’clock and stayed for two hours, the third was on a Friday afternoon and I stayed there for four hours. At each one I used the observational research method and at the first and second I attempted to use the interview research method. My observations varied from group to group and which ones used the areas in certain ways.
The families used it differently than others because they mostly focused in the playground area whereas the others typically spread out more across the park and usually stayed within the groups they came with. There were groups on the weekend that were focused on a form of exercise such as biking, running, yoga, meditation. Then there were groups that were just friends hanging out together, often on a blanket in the sun. I was able to interview two people, one set of parents and one young woman, both lived nearby and both requested that I didn’t use their name in my research paper.
In my interview I asked questions about how they liked the parked, how it could improve, how safe they felt in the park and the surrounding area, if they felt the area could be made better with more parks, how close the park needed to be for them to go to them, and if it impacted their mental or physical health in any way. The parents had a few different answers from each other which was something that I found interesting.
They agreed on how they enjoyed that there was a park near them for the kids to go to, but the mother wished that there was more of a gate around the play area to keep the kids near them and lessen the chance of them wandering away. They said that they did not feel as though the park gave them any increased sense of safety. The father wished that the park was closer and the mother thought that the walk was good for them and after playing at the park their youngest would usually fall asleep on the way back. Neither thought that it impacted their mental health though they did say that it did help their kids have more physical activity than if it wasn’t there.
The young woman said that she lived nearby and often came to the park with her dog and friends. When I asked her if she liked the park or if there were any improvements she wanted she said that she liked having a park so close to her because it felt better to walk her dog there than the surrounding area because there was no grass anywhere. She did say though that the paved roads in the park should be wider since sometimes police vehicles need to fit on them at the same times as people.
The park she said seemed to make the surrounding area better looking and she saw more cops patrolling in the area surrounding the park than anywhere else. When asked about if her mental or physical health was impacted she said that she missed having a yard and being outside and going to parks helps make her feel better as well as motivates her to go for longer walks with her dog. Overall the observations and interviews helped confirm my findings in my research as well as my research question.
With the life of many people in Brooklyn being altered and changed with gentrification a 2001 study examined how exposure to nature affects residents of Chicago housing projects and their ability to address major life challenges. They found that residents with even limited views of trees or grass from their apartments reported less mental fatigue, less procrastination in dealing with life issues, and feeling like their problems were less severe compared to residents with no views of nature.
A study that compared meditative and athletic walking in forest and indoor settings showed that in both environments meditative walking generated more positive psychological effects than athletic walking. Other investigators have found evidence of lower frustration and increased brain activity, resembling meditation, when moving in green space versus being in retail and commercial areas that have no trees.
Also, meditative walking in the forest was the most effective at increasing happiness, defined as the presence of a positive emotional mindset. Psychologists know that being happy broadens how a person thinks about and acts in the daily flow of life’s efforts, creating positive intellectual and psychological resources.
Stress is a major contributor to ill health. Left unresolved, long-term stress can lead to immune system issues and illness. The experience of nature is one antidote to stress, and the body’s positive response is remarkably fast, occurring within minutes. Studies by environmental psychologists show that visual exposure to nature, in the form of trees, grass and flowers, can effectively reduce stress, particularly if initial stress levels are high.
Experiences of nearby nature contribute to better mental health and improve one’s capacity to be productive according to Attention Restoration Theory. Modern life often demands sustained focus on projects, and this effort can lead to cognitive overload, bringing on irritability and an inability to function effectively, often with physical symptoms.
Views or brief experiences of nearby nature help to restore the mind from mental fatigue, as natural settings provide respite from the highly focused attention needed for most tasks in school or at work. This may contribute to higher productivity in the workplace, as research shows that office workers with a view of nature are better able to attend to tasks, report fewer illnesses and have higher job satisfaction. Increased time of nature experience (up to 1.5 hours) increases the restorative effect.
Contemporary lifestyles are very busy, and there is a greater need for intentional time-outs to be mindful. Studies of mindfulness workshops, held for both mentally healthy and clinically depressed individuals, show benefits of improved mood, cognitive function and immune response. Nature settings offer sensory inputs that are mentally restorative and can foster ideation. In a study of creative professionals, nature experiences enhanced creativity by evoking new ways of thinking, promoting curiosity and encouraging more flexible thinking.
A nature recharge may support creativity, as the restored mind is better at analyzing and developing ideas. Social capital, a critical condition for a host of community benefits, is formed from the interpersonal relationships of people and resulting supportive networks. The mere presence of landscape or trees appears to promote community connections. Views of green space from homes are linked to greater perceptions of well-being and neighborhood satisfaction.
Public housing residents reported feeling more safe if their development had well-maintained landscaping, including trees and grass. Greener public housing neighborhoods tend to be safer, with fewer incivilities and less reported crimes. Active involvement in community greening and nature restoration projects also produces social benefits, including strengthening of intergenerational ties and organizational empowerment.
Scientific evidence should be the basis of future efforts to make cities more sustainable and sustaining. We now know that nearby nature — including small plots or parcels iembeddedwithin all land uses — directly contributes to quality human habitat and is profoundly important for the health of mind and body. Integrations of parks and infrastructure goals can provide more opportunities for the nearby nature experiences that promote good health and sustain wellness.
From my research and site visits I learnt that having parks within a certain distance of homes allows people to be more motivated to go exercise at the park or even to find mental relief at the park. I would recommend adding more parks to cities to allow this to be more accessible. It would help with the mentality of those living in the city as well as motivate them for more physical exercise. This would then help improve the health which obesity is an epidemic right now.