Greener Cities: More Than Just a Treehugger’s Paradise

Last Monday, I went to UVA’s first annual Healthy Spaces: Public Health and Environment Student-Faculty Dinner, where there were (free!) gourmet noms, thought-provoking faculty presentations, and wonderful conversation with other people who care about the environment! One of the speakers was Carla Jones, Lecturer and Program Director of the School of Architecture here at UVA, who gave a really amazing talk on the need for more green spaces in urban cities.

I’ll admit, when I saw the title slide of her presentation, my inner cynic was like “Ugh, not one of these again.” Like yes, trees are good for the environment, and, I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a beautiful Central Park-esque neighborhood? But neighborhoods like that are expensive! And not everyone can live there, so what is the point of this presentation?? Because of this attitude, I only half-listened to all the benefits she listed, but what she said about making it a reality caught my attention. There is a financial incentive for making cities greener. Green spaces have been proven to increase property value and employment rates, and promote tourism and business growth. How, you ask?? Here are some very compelling health benefits of having some green in our lives:

  • Decreased rates of depression
  • Increased productivity
  • Calmer people
  • Longer attention spans in children with ADD
  • Better air quality – did you know one tree can absorb about 11,000 miles of car emissions per year?
  • Shorter patient recovery times
  • Reduced crime
  • Reduced obesity – more incentive to exercise
Compare this urban street with no trees in sight…
To this urban street with trees. Which one looks happier and more inviting?

In a study of a public housing development, people were found to be more likely to socialize with neighbors and reported a safer community environment. Happier, more productive people make better employees, which attract businesses. Parks, nice landscaping, and less crime can transform a neighborhood into a place that attracts tourists, as opposed to one that makes them want to avoid the area all together.

The success of implementation lies in the hands of the people. Big businesses have no interest in the actual transformation of a city; it’s not profitable. They’re only interested in the end product. It’s easy, as a privileged outsider, to be caught saying, “This is the problem; here is the solution. Now gimme your money.” This tactic does not work. Going to a place like Oakland, CA and using their government’s money to plant some trees, bushes, and flowers will not solve the problem. Without more money being wasted to sustain the beautiful greenery, the entire effort will be wasted, and their problems will still remain. Cities like Oakland, where poverty is ubiquitous, must focus their resources on solving urgent problems like hunger or crime, but their efforts are often restricted to short term solutions. It must be a grassroots, pun intended, movement where the people understand why they should plant trees and perhaps create and maintain communal gardens. It is when they truly believe in the benefits of this long-term solution that lasting change can occur.

Check out the Biophilic Cities Project, UVA’s Center for Design and Health, and this other cool blog, deeproot, if you’d like to learn more!



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