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Freeport, ME, June 29, 2021


The ability to move freely through a city, whether by foot or public transportation, is an essential component of urban living. COVID-19 put a major halt on our mobility, from the narrowing of our social circles to reduced transit schedules and restaurant closures. These changes forced us to rethink our relationship not just to the city, but to outdoor spaces like parks and preserves.

A long walk after work became an essential routine for many urban dwellers during the pandemic, one of the few ways to create a sense of space in a time when things were feeling so tight and restrictive. Green spaces became sanctuaries—and a reminder of how important time outside is for our well-being and sense of self. This might feel obvious, especially with all we know about the benefits of time outside, but a recent study - An ecosystem service perspective on urban nature, physical activity, and health, by Remme et al. (2021) - closes the gap between parks, lakes, trees, and other urban green spaces and the boost they provide to physical activity and overall wellbeing.

The researchers, looking at decades of public health data, created a framework for understanding the benefits of nature in the city. They explored how people “might choose to walk an extra few blocks to enjoy a blooming garden or bike to work along a river path, reaping the health benefits of physical activity they may have missed if not motivated by natural spaces.”

Essentially, these green spaces, by their very presence, encourage city residents to move farther and with more frequency. The primary point of the research is to help urban planners think about how to better integrate nature into cities, but it’s a good reminder for us to take advantage of the spaces and places that do exist for us to help fill our nature deficit.

This is supported by what the existing research tells us: we don’t need to be on a wilderness trail to experience the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of time outside. By taking a scenic route home from the office or finding a patch of park grass to gaze at the clouds as they pass are easy ways to get your daily dose of awe, wherever you are.

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