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Connect to nature for `healthy urban living`

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Washington: The world is in the midst of the largest wave of urban growth in history and the society is tuned to the pulse of the city now at a cost. But as per a recent study, finding connections to nature in cities can help us live healthily.

In the study, the authors discuss the growing tension between an arguably necessary role urban areas play in society and the numbing, even debilitating, aspects of cities that disconnect humans from the natural world.

Coauthor Peter Kahn of the University of Washington said, “Kids in large cities are growing up having never seen the stars. Can you imagine that, having never in your life walked under the vastness of the star-lit sky, and there’s that feeling of awe, restoration and imaginative spark?”

He added, “As we build bigger cities, we’re not aware how much and how fast we’re undermining our connection to nature, and more wild nature — the wellspring of our existence.”

Kahn and co-author Terry Hartig at Uppsala University in Sweden point to research that shows the emotional and mental strain cities can have on people. Mental illnesses and mood disorders are more common in urban areas, and while many factors share the blame, reduced access to nature is a contributing cause, Kahn said.

City dwellers in increasingly dense urban areas may have little or no contact with the natural world in their daily lives. That void is producing “environmental generational amnesia,” a term Kahn coined and elaborates on in a recent book that describes how each generation creates a new idea of what’s environmentally normal based on experiences in childhood.

There are steps cities can take to introduce nature into the urban core, including requiring buildings to have windows that open to allow in fresh air and natural light; incorporating more rooftop gardens and urban agriculture; and creating spaces within and around buildings to touch, see and smell native plants.

But these remedies first require an appreciation for nature in urban centers, as well as the space, resources and collective will to make these changes.

Kahn argues that it’s more than just introducing nature into urban areas. People must be able to interact with these elements using more of their senses in order to experience physical and psychological benefits of nature, as well as to shift the collective baseline toward better understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

The authors concluded, “Thus, cities designed well, with nature in mind and at hand, can be understood as natural, supportive of both ecosystem integrity and public health.”

The study appears in journal Science. (ANI)

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