April is in full motion; the trees are blooming and it is quickly starting to feel like spring! Festivals dedicated to the beautiful flowering dogwoods and cherry blossom trees kick off outdoor events for the rest of the year. Surrounded by thousands of people at the Dogwood Arts Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, it registered to me that blossoming trees and nature bring people together.
Nature undoubtedly has a calming effect on people. Getting away from the city shuffle, enjoying the sound of birds chirping, creeks trickling and wind blowing generates inner stillness. But what about a city center full of people laughing and music playing, busy and bustling areas that can still bring forth calmness? How can we reduce our stress while still inside a hectic, urbanized city? Greenery.
A study conducted by a group at the University of Illinois gathered that adults in the inner city migrated to outdoor areas with trees, drawing people out of their homes and interacting with neighbors and their community. The study also showed that people felt safer in areas with a lot of trees, contrary to what city developers often thought. A large-scale Dutch study concluded that college students who had a view of living plants showed higher cognitive function, better impulse control and conflict management.
Parks and urban green space lower stress and improve overall mental health. In the UK, a major study showed that people are happier when they live in a greener neighborhood regardless of social factors like marriage, income, home or health.
If you look at the “happiest and healthiest cities” in the United States, each city has low obesity rates, abundant outdoor greenery and city gardens. Research also shows that these mental health benefits are not short lived. They are immediate and long lasting.
From the Washington D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival to my little city’s Dogwood Arts Festival, most metropolitan areas are beginning to understand the importance of green space in an urban environment. It helps to improve mental health, social participation and physical activity. Planting trees and greenery throughout neighborhoods can decrease criminal activity, build a stronger community and provide an escape from stress and depression, supporting an overall happier life. Plus, with most of the events being free or low cost, it is easy to get involved in the community activities and boost our mental health!