More evidence that cityfolk need nature



From comes evidence that city life impairs our basic mental processes. "After spending a few 
minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things
in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control."  And one of the main reasons is the lack of nature, "which is
surprisingly beneficial for the brain."  Even fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance. 

Anti-lawn activists will love this part.  The mostly-lawn nature of most urban parks is "due in part to the 'savannah hypothesis,' which
argues that people prefer wide-open landscapes that resemble the
African landscape in which we evolved. Over time, this hypothesis has
led to a proliferation of expansive civic lawns, punctuated by a few
trees and playing fields.

"However, these savannah-like parks are
actually the least beneficial for the brain. In a recent paper, Richard
Fuller, an ecologist at the University of Queensland, demonstrated that
the psychological benefits of green space are closely linked to the
diversity of its plant life. When a city park has a larger variety of
trees, subjects that spend time in the park score higher on various
measures of psychological well-being, at least when compared with less
biodiverse parks."

Photo credit:  Central


  1. That lawn = savannah idea is dumb. Lawns are flat, motionless, and monochromatic. Savannas, like prairies and meadows and other semi-wild open spaces, are subtly colored and full of movement.

  2. Very interesting article. My two favorite places to be are deep in the middle of Manhattan and deep in the middle of mountains. The article makes me think that humans need both: Manhattan-like environments for the “intellectual breakthroughs” they generate and so-called natural settings for the mental replenishment they offer. And as usual Lou Reed is a poet for our times “I’m sick of the trees/take me to the city.”

  3. And it just occurred to me: another favorite place to be is on the edge of the ocean. Is that because man evolved from fish and I’m remembering, genetically, my origins?

  4. I love this result. I wonder if you could use kids’ play as an indicator of brain activity in adults? If kids like to play there, it must be good for adult brains?

  5. I agree with Sarahammocks about the lawn thing–a lawn is not a savannah or a prairie. And the quote does go on to say this is the least beneficial type of green. However, there definitely is something to that wide-open space idea, for me anyway. Any way you look at it, green is good. But we gardeners knew this all along, didn’t we? Did we really need a study to prove it to us? 🙂

  6. Confirms and adds to a lot of Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods. People are smarter if they get some natural nature, recover from illnesses faster, don’t have as much adhd, soil has bacteria that raises serotonin, sunlight gives you vitamin d which is sorta important for everything. My kids are going to listen to classical music while gardening and composing haiku out loud. My kids will get picked on a lot on their way to chess club, too, I guess….

  7. I know I’m much happier when I have ample time to be outside – my desk always faces a window (all the better for daydreaming). As non-PC as it is, I must confess a love of the savannah (or, in my case, lawns) – I find it calming and love to take a short nap on the lawn.

  8. I feel the reverse of Pam:
    Manhattan (lived there for 18 years, now visit) for the mental entertainment and natural settings (3 years in the forest this April) for the mental replenishment!

  9. Reading this I remember Julie Moir Messervy ( writing about the different landscapes we individually respond to or prefer. I like lawns well enough, but I could never nap there. It is a sheltering space that I need.

  10. James – I’m glad you mentioned safe places. One of the areas I’m studying is the effect of landscaping on crime. I’d love to see more trees and shrubs in parks, but they need to be placed so that there isn’t too much privacy for criminals to conduct business.

  11. Thanks so much for this post! It’s so nice to know that what kids need, adults need too.
    We all know about the No Child Left Inside movement (and we’ll be hosting a symposium here with that theme in April) but what about the adults?!? We need it too!

  12. The lawn-savannah hypothesis is bunk. Its obvious why people “like” lawns, cut short. They are clean for laying, sitting, you can kick a ball around, etc. The connection we have to lawns has more to do with aristocratic landscapes over the last few hundred years. Central Park’s Sheep Meadow puts it in name. Sheep were grazed on artificial grasslands, on the estate. The short grass became desired by all, but not the sheep-and so thank god for the lawn mower! Call it the IRON SHEEP. It also kept the land around the estate clear in view lest we miss those marauders. Its the image of order, the kind someone with something to lose desires. I don’t think people are conscious of these roots, but mime it anyway. Plus, its clean to lay on.

Comments are closed.