Green spaces should support the mental health of young adults

Green spaces should support the mental health of young adults

Image: Dr. Sara Barron
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Credit: UBC Faculty of Forestry

Although many cities around the world are incorporating green spaces such as pocket parks and community gardens into their urban planning efforts, new research from UBC shows that these plans often fail to include the needs of young people and adults. young adults aged 15 to 24. demographic age may miss out on the known social, physical and mental benefits of these nature-based solutions.

UBC faculty forestry researchers Dr. Sara Barron (she/her) and Dr. Emily J. Rugel (she/her) analyzed data collected during visits to parks in two cities in Australia and reviewed evidence from the past decades to develop a new green space assessment tool for young adults.

Public urban green spaces keep our cities cool, reduce stress and improve mood, says Dr. Barron. They promote activities such as physical exercise and social interaction. These benefits are important for everyone, but especially for young adults, because it is during this period of life that many chronic mental disorders emerge.

Impacts of green spaces on mental health

“Exposure to the right kind of green spaces can foster strong social connections and a connection to nature during these critical years. Unfortunately, nature and health research, as well as urban planning, have tended to overlook this important demographic group.

Reviewing the cityscape of the Lower Mainland in British Columbia, Canada, Dr. Barron notes that there are attractive green spaces, but very few are intentionally designed for young adults.

“For example, we’re really good at providing play areas for younger children or including things like benches in parks for older adults. But when it comes to youth and young adults, there’s a noticeable lack of intentionally designed spaces where they can just be themselves.

A few spaces that meet these criteria to some degree include Spanish Banks, where logs on the beach provide a measure of privacy for solo park-goers as well as groups; and Stanley Park, which offers an incredible amount of biodiversity.

“However, there is a clear need to deliberately design our public green spaces to make them more appealing to youth and young adults, particularly in light of emerging research suggesting that young people have experienced poorer mental health due to stress. of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Barron.

Call for “tolerant green spaces”

In their article, the authors present what they call “tolerant green spaces” – places that meet the needs of young adults for social interaction and psychological restoration.

“Such places provide order – they are natural, but they are also well maintained and safe,” says study co-author Dr. Emily Rugel. “They show diversity, both in plant life and in the activities they enable. Finally, they offer young people a place to seek solace in quiet solitude or spend time with their friends without adult supervision.

The authors tested this concept on a range of green spaces in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s two largest cities. Walkways with well-placed vegetation on both sides do a good job of creating a sense of order, for example. Formal parks planted with more than three tree species or providing facilities for at least three recreational activities ensure diversity. Even pocket parks that use patios or shrubbery to create separate areas promote seclusion and retreat.

Moving forward, Dr. Barron and Dr. Rugel offer a framework that planners or even young citizen scientists can use to assess how tolerant green spaces are and to plan for future spaces.

“Some cities may find it difficult to integrate green spaces into areas of densification. The good news is that you don’t necessarily need abundant space for tolerant designs. Even small plots can be transformed into green spaces that meet the needs of young people and young adults,” observes Dr. Rugel.


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