Terraform Earth

Facts About Trees #2

The prospect a walking is often viewed as an unappealing option, but that depends on the design of the sidewalk. On a bright hot day, the thought of hoofing it through an overheated stark concrete landscape is not pleasant. The threat of death- by-inattentive-car-driver is another not so pleasant thought that makes a simple walk difficult. Streets and parking lots have to be crossed. But if the walk is along a wide sidewalk shaded with trees and contained between planters full of colorful flowers and small pleasant shops and populated with other strolling pedestrians, the desire to walk, to be out among others, is almost impossible to ignore, like our bodies are begging for simplicity, for the chance to operate once again at a slower pace. Though there is always this pressure and criticism to go faster to be more productive, maybe the slower pace already accomplishes this. Here are some more facts about trees from Dan Burden’s Walkable Communities and other sources.

Whether or not outdoor spaces are green and vegetated had been found to be one of leading reasons these spaces are used. The presence of trees encourages outdoor use. Several studies have found a correlation between the presence of trees and the amount of physical activity of neighborhood residents. When there are more trees, people are more physically active. Considering our nation’s record high rates of obesity and considering the rising rates of childhood obesity and the increasing prevalence of other “adult” diseases in children, like diabetes, planting trees should be done to encourage physical activity.     

Other physical health benefits of trees, in addition to reducing asthma, includes the reduction of inhalation of toxic carcinogens. Emissions from cars include VOCs, Nitrogen Oxides, Carbon Monoxide, smog causing ozone, and particulate matter so small that it can be inhaled into the lungs and even passed into the blood stream. Levels of these pollutants are significantly lower around trees.

The symptoms of attention “disorders” in children, like ADHD, are reduced by outdoor play. Children given the opportunity to play outdoors in green spaces pay attention better, are better able to complete tasks, follow directions, and score higher on tests. 

Knowing the results of this research, both physically and mentally, this makes me think that these disorders may be more a symptom of the environment we are raising children in. There is a clear link between many physical diseases in children now and the decreased amounts of physical activity. The link  between green spaces and attention disorders is less clear. One suggestion is that learning shares a region of the brain with observation of our surroundings and our brain pays particularly close attention to nature, thus engaging learning as well. Instead of treating with drugs, maybe we should address the cause of these symptoms by encouraging outdoor play and developing better more naturalistic green spaces, especially around schools.


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