Escape to Green Space

Written by Alanna Burns, Illustration by Jaclyn Simon

As a person who lives in a city, I frequently find myself seeking places to visit that counteract the effects urban living can have on my well-being. Spending time in places like a park or community garden grants a reprieve from what can often be a daily routine that doesn’t involve much time with nature. Like many people, a significant portion of my time is spent indoors, usually at a desk. It takes effort to go outside to spend time getting back in touch with nature, but it’s an effort well worth it. The effects of spending time outdoors provides tremendous improvements to my mental health. Feeling the warm sun on my face and the tranquillity that comes with being among plants can eradicate the worst of moods.

Despite having lived in a city for many years now, I’m not really a big city person. Sure, I love the convenience that city life offers and there are countless amenities available to me, but I often find that living in a city can feel overwhelming and even claustrophobic. I am constantly aware of being surrounded by steel and glass and the constant drone of traffic and city noise can be a little much. It’s loud and busy and quite frankly, it’s a lot for our brains to process. Cities have their benefits for sure, but they also have their drawbacks. A disconnect from nature is an unfortunate reality of city dwelling. I am fortunate to live in a city with a lot of green space available. Green space – parks, community gardens, community woodlands etc. – are a critical component of successful city planning. It is vital that cities provide these spaces for its inhabitants as a way to escape city life and have a safe space to spend time with nature. 

There are at least three parks within walking distance to my home. At any time, I can just go outside and sit in a park and begin to feel the positive effects that being outside has on the human body. I instantly feel better about whatever might be bothering me and I often find that I have my most creative thoughts while sitting on a bench in a garden. Sometimes it’s just walking around my neighbourhood and sitting at a park for a bit. Other times it’s a hike through the forest, spending time amongst the trees – trees make lovely company.I’ve realised that it doesn’t matter how I spend my time outside in these spaces – no time spent outside is ever wasted. I never regret going for a walk or visiting a garden. The benefits are that good. I am grateful for having access to these safe spaces throughout the city, but for many people, that access is limited. I strongly believe that everyone should have access to a variety of green spaces and to be able to spend time in nature, regardless of where they live.

Green space is important for those who live in an urban environment. Not only do these spaces provide a place for respite and socialisation, but they also contribute to better air quality and a decrease in noise pollution. The exposure to beneficial microbiota (microorganisms found on all multicellular organisms, like plants!) helps improve our immune function. These spaces also help in our fight against climate change. Parks and community gardens are good at sequestering carbon in the soil and promote urban biodiversity. Parks and urban forests can provide shade relief for those increasingly warmer months. In areas where there isn’t much of a tree canopy, this can actually help save lives. Our mental health benefits from these spaces as well. Mood disorders like depression and anxiety benefit from exposure to nature. Science tells us that the more time you spend in nature, the better you feel. City living can be stressful and can potentially lead to the development of psychiatric conditions. Urban parks and gardens help combat this by giving us a place to go when life feels overwhelming.

Unfortunately, despite how critical green spaces are to an urban environment, cities across Canada have been losing green space over the years. This is mostly due to development.. Cities need to be creative in how they can provide housing density but also space for trees. Without adequate green space, cities cannot function properly. We need these areas in order to live healthy, fulfilling lives while dealing with the realities of city life. 

I will never tire of visiting the green spaces in my neighbourhood. I love walking to the park and seeing the community garden full of plants knowing that people are putting their time and energy into maintaining something beautiful, not just for their own enjoyment but for the enjoyment of others. These parks and gardens provide an outlet for people to experience joy and peace and find a sense of calm in a world that demands so much of our time and attention. When we need to disconnect and turn our attention inwards, the value of green space really shines. We may not all be able to escape city life on a permanent basis, but at the very least we can temporarily escape to a place where it doesn’t all seem so bad.