The most recent survey conducted by Mental Health America shows that 1 in 5 Americans experience mental illness. That’s close to 50 million people nationwide. While that alone is a sobering statistic, it proves slightly worse for people living in urban areas, who are exposed to air pollution, noise, and other environmental stressors.
One way that urbanites can find some zen amidst the concrete is through green spaces. Many studies agree that the positive effects of natural areas significantly improve both physical health and mental health. “Access to nature has also been found to improve sleep and reduce stress, increase happiness and reduce negative emotions, promote positive social interactions and even help generate a sense of meaning to life,” reports New Scientist. An article published in the National Library of Medicine shows that green space improves mental health in two ways: reducing stress and restoring attention. “The Stress Reduction Theory states that Green Spaces are a source of positive emotions while blocking negative emotions and therefore reducing stress levels. According to Attention Restorative Theory, Green Spaces offer a space to attract and recover attention effortlessly and suppress neurocognitive load.”
Yet, not just any green space will help achieve these physical and mental benefits. “Green space planning should take into account the species, habitats, and landscape configurations that might influence ecological systems, which, in turn, can support human life efficiently and provide increased psycho-logical and physiological health benefits,” as noted in Urban Landscapes in High-Density Cities. Here in Atlanta, the Roots Down Fruitful Communities Initiative takes these crucial elements into account to plan urban green spaces the right way. The initiative also makes escaping to a green space as easy as going to the local library.
By focusing on locations where communities already congregate (libraries, schools, downtown areas), the initiative aims to create community gardens– or Productive Urban Landscapes (PULs) – that make an impact. Their positive effects can be seen in a multitude of ways: they attract pollinating insects, are visually pleasing, and even bear fruit that can help feed those who face food insecurity. “The promotion of PULs and urban agriculture, in conjunction with healthy eating campaigns, is one way by which diets may be shifted away from excessive fat and sugar consumption in developed countries and one way by which access to food in general is improved in countries suffering from economic hardship,” notes the authors of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes: Designing Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Cities.
These factors (like a healthy diet and easy access to nutritious foods) improve overall physical health and mental state. Whether unplugging from work demands, enjoying the peace and quiet of nature, or getting nourishment from the bounty of a productive garden, fruitful communities have something for the health and well-being of everyone! Join us in furthering this mission in your community today.