The COVID-19 crisis has given everyone a new perspective on the importance of integrating nature into our everyday lives. Pre-pandemic, we were busy hurtling from home to job, usually in cars or crowded public transportation, often in busy urban areas, with little time built in to experience the great outdoors.
During the past few months, nature has provided a bit of relief to millions of people in search of physical and mental health. Breathing in fresh air, enjoying the aromas of nature, feeling a relaxing breeze, hearing birds singing and looking up at the stars have served as natural tonics for anxiety and cabin fever. Indeed, the lockdown has taught us that people need landscapes. In this digital age, the value of the IRL natural world is finally back where it should be--front and center.
This renewed appreciation of nature as a contributor to health and wellness will be one of the long-lasting outcomes of this era. Going forward, that is likely to translate into a greater desire for residential neighborhoods and public spaces that emphasize wellness components.
The way urban and community planners think about space will change following the pandemic, according to Pablo S. Massari, an associate principal at EDSA, a Florida-based landscape architecture firm. Parks and outdoor environments will be prioritized and re-imagined. “In Victorian times,” he said, “people noticed cities getting unhealthier, so they developed parks with canopies and shade. In recent decades, those natural features have been crowded out by tennis courts and playgrounds and skating parks. (But today), most outdoor spaces today are overly programmed for recreation and sports, with very little space for canopy and trails.” Now is the time to change that, he said, by bringing back canopy and greenery, both in parks and in residential areas.
|Courtesy: Congress for the New Urbanism|
In terms of community planning then, as new neighborhoods are designed, green space is key. A priority should be put on the ability to traverse the neighborhood by foot or bike. Developing neighborhood greenways, low-traffic streets where bicyclists and walkers get priority over motorists, or dedicated trails for non-motorized vehicles can help do the trick. Communal gardens and outdoor “open play” areas are other features that can add green elements and opportunities for human connection, both of which are key to wellness.
The 19th Hole
When we discuss wellness, we are talking about it holistically. It is not solely human health that we seek to improve, but also the environment at large. That is why, when discussing wellness communities, we should reconsider the idea of homes built around a golf course. Golf courses are known water guzzlers, and the use of fertilizer and pesticides to maintain their manicured lawns are not good for the environment. Furthermore, golf courses located near protected or sensitive areas can have negative impacts on local flora and fauna.
According to EDSA’s Massari, particularly in areas where water is scarce, extra land should be used for less impactful forms of recreation, or for agriculture, both of which serve to benefit nature and people.