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Staying Sane in the City

We all know that civilization is moving to the cities. In many ways, this is a really positive trend. Having a greater percentage of people living in dense urban areas will be good for resource efficiency.

But this is also going to present some new challenges. Humans, after all, evolved over eons to live on the Sereghetti. Our bodies and minds are designed for an environment very different from Tokyo or Manhattan. How exactly this affects civilization in the future is unclear, but it's worth thinking about. A new study by researchers at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam looked at how close people lived to green areas and how that affected their physical and mental health.Their results confimed that being in contact with the natural world was good for physical conditions including diabetes, coronary heart disease, and various repiratory issues. But they also found that mental health was greatly affected. From the BBC:
The annual prevalence of anxiety disorders for those living in a residential area containing 10% of green space within a one kilometre (0.62 miles) radius of their home was 26 per 1000 whereas for those living in an area containing 90% of green space it was 18 per 1000. For depression the rates were 32 per 1000 for the people in the more built up areas and 24 per 1000 for those in the greener areas. The researchers also showed that this relation was strongest for children younger than 12. They were 21% less likely to suffer from depression in the greener areas.
Those numbers shouldn't send us into a panic (anxiety-prone though we are), but they should maybe just get us thinking about the psychological effects of this move to the city, and how we can make sure people have that connection to nature that keeps us sane. It would be interesting to see if urban spaces like Central Park or the High Line satisfy this need.

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