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Making the Most of Urban Green Spaces

By Helen Redman


Green spaces are areas I seek out wherever I go. I’m fortunate to have trees in view from the window of my workspace and a nature path with grassy embankments a mere stone’s throw from my front door.

Living in a city, however, this is not the typical situation. For many, green spaces can be further to come by and it is important to make the most of them to reap the physical and psychological benefits of them.

In the UK, two green-space-related government announcements were made this week. One was about the formation of new National Parks, about which the government is asking the public to share their views. Speaking of the review that is being undertaken, the Chief of National Parks, Margaret Paren, has said: “Our protected landscapes are special and worthy of celebration. We are keen to ensure their beauty is enhanced; they are loved by and accessible for everyone; and that they continue to support thriving communities.” The other announcement concerned the publication of an Urban Tree Manual. Its purpose? To “improve decision-making around the country to make sure our invaluable trees are preserved now – and for future generations.”

These are arguably important and worthwhile initiatives to be happening. Initiatives like these help preserve and improve green spaces of the country. Unfortunately, this past week has also seen something really disappointing. In Scotland’s Capital, Edinburgh, over 40 mature trees situated in Princes Street Gardens were felled. These were not diseased, but healthy. The felling of them has sparked much criticism. Princes Street Gardens would surely be one of the hallmark green spaces of the UK and it is almost unbelievable that so many trees were felled all together. The East gardens now look bare and the impact is especially noticeable with it being the season of beautifully,  colourful autumnal leaves.

When I heard of the felling I was gutted. Though the reason given for the felling, to provide new disabled access to the National Galleries of Scotland, is undeniably a suitable one, the cutting down of so many trees seems overkill. There is already disabled access so this would be creating an additional, not a sole access point.

Trees provide, among other things, oxygen, habitats for biodiversity, filtering of pollutants out of the air, and blocking around 50% of harmful UVB-rays, as well as being beneficial from a psychological and wellness perspectives. Did you know, one mature tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for four people each day?

Losses of trademark elements of green spaces like this makes me all the more appreciative of green spaces, especially those well looked after and visited by those living in the communities around them.

So how can we make the most of urban green spaces?


Use them to escape the hustle and bustle of the city


Park with water feature and buildings

Living in cities often comes with commutes, hectic schedules, and frustrations. Visiting green spaces can provide an oasis of quiet calm amongst the busyness. They also promote psychological relaxation and stress reduction.


Appreciate the seasons


Autumn leaves at my feet

Time flies by quicker each year it seems, but it’s great to stop, take check, and appreciate each season as it here. See the blossoms in spring, buds of new life, bright green of tree leaves in summer, bronze and coppery shades of autumn, and bare, leaf-less frost covered deciduous trees in winter contrasted with the dark evergreen firs.


Look for wildlife


Swan by Helen C Redman

While the UK’s wildlife may not be the most exotic, it is nice to sit and observe the country’s wildlife going about their daily routines. Squirrels, hedgehogs, foxes, birds, swans, badgers – there are a host of wildlife to be on the look-out for. When I was studying for my MSc in Psychology at The University of Edinburgh, it was lovely to escape the library and sit and watch the ever-present squirrels scurrying about in George Square Gardens while I ate my lunch. They were pretty used to people so they’d often contentedly observe humans too!


A space to disconnect from technology


Mature trees

The constant notifications from technology that we face now, really does punctuate our time and prevent us from properly taking a break and being restful. Use urban green spaces as a place to switch off and disconnect by putting your phone ‘on disturb’ or in aeroplane mode. Sit back and relax enjoying the sights and sounds of nature, sketch, or get absorbed in a book.


Go for a walk or run


Bike amongst trees

Research indicates that benefits of green spaces are enhanced if you take part in physical activity while in them. Urban green spaces are great places to go for a walk, run, cycle or whatever your preference of physical activity is. Benefits of exercising outdoors include reduced mental fatigue, improved self-esteem, and better mood.


Written by Helen C Redman (Twitter: @HelenCRedman). All photos taken by Helen C Redman. Copyright 2018.




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