In 2019, over 81% of Canada’s population lived in cities and this urbanization is likely to climb to 87% by 2050. Prior to 1900, much of the world’s population still lived in rural, low-density areas and it’s fair to say it remained that way until relatively recently in history. Rapid increases in populations living in cities, really only started to take place in the last 200 years, over which time, world urbanization rates have gone from around 16% to 56%.
We’re starting to feel the impacts of this urbanization in many aspects of our lives, but more and more studies are saying that the gradual depletion of green space from the areas surrounding where we live has led to a degradation in our wellbeing and quality of life.
How does green space impact our lives?
The impact of loss of green space on the environment has become ubiquitous in recent years with high profile climate change proponents pushing it higher up the world agenda. The environmental impact is overarching on the human race and how countries are dealing with that is another matter; there is little conversation however, around the impact that this lack of green space in our cities can have on our everyday health and mortality with one organization in Australia going so far as to call it a ‘silent killer’. Most would agree that enjoying natural surroundings like parks and forest trails makes them feel better, but why? And how does it translate to improved health?
Relieve Stress and Improve Mental Health
During the pandemic, we’ve probably all had those moments where we just had to get up and out and go and enjoy the outdoors to relieve some of the stress of being ‘always-available’. Taking a break in a green space has been shown to lower stress-inducing cortisol levels and this is inextricably linked with improving mental health issues such as anxiety and depression which are more likely to occur with sustained stress.
Improved Immune Function
One of the growing problems associated with less greenery is that we’re no longer predisposed to the level of biodiversity that we would historically have benefited from to boost our immune system. This can cause all sorts of immune disorders which develop early in children and daily access to green space may prove beneficial.
Encourages Physical Activity
Endorphins from a great workout are hard to beat but if you live in a concrete jungle, a simple walk in the park on a regular basis can do so much for activity levels, that is if you have this sort of space within walking distance. The closer the space, the more likely you are to partake in physical activity. Being active has a knock-on effect on so many things - mental health, sleep, propensity to illness and of course managing weight for a feel-good factor.
Reduced Social Isolation
Social isolation is something that has been exacerbated by the events of last year, particularly for older and more vulnerable parts of society. It’s thought that good outdoor spaces can offer opportunities for increased interaction and feeling of community, particularly for adolescents, albeit when it’s acceptable to be social once again.
So which cities in the world boast the most green space?
Probably not the ones you might expect. If you were to guess before ‘Googling’, you might say Taipei and Toronto would be up there with the best but not so. Surprisingly Moscow makes it into the top spot with Singapore not far behind. Moscow’s sprawling parks cover an area of 450 square kilometers, over half of the city’s footprint including forested areas inhabited by different animal species and so far removed from the bleak mass of buildings many will still perceive it to be. Meanwhile Singapore can enjoy the accolade of being one of the greenest cities on the planet, utilizing tree canopies like no one else and implementing over 300km of green walking corridors that connect their parks. It has admirably pursued green development strategies since the 1960s and continues to do so.
Here’s the top and bottom five cities based on park and garden space according to the ‘World Cities Culture Forum’;
Most Green Space
Least Green Space
DUBAI : 2%
Many of the North-American cities covered in this report sit somewhere in the middle with Toronto at an average 13% green space and LA at just 6.7%.
How does green space affect commercial real estate decisions?
The proximity of green space surrounding a property has always been an attractive proposition for developers because it offers a number of benefits. These sites tout increased tourism, less air pollution for improved quality of life for the users and surrounding community and there’s generally less risk of flooding.
Properties ranking higher for walkability to green areas are usually associated with lower cap rates and attract much higher rents as well as appreciating more quickly than competitive estate. All of these things appeal to those in the market for retail, office or residential investment opportunities.
Savvy employers will potentially look to tempt their employees back to a city workplace by adding green amenities to the list of benefits. In many markets, particularly the growing healthcare market, employers are recognizing that improving working conditions can result in a more productive workforce.
Enabling their workforce to exercise, clear their minds in green areas and return to work focused, could become an integral part of daily working life in the new norm, especially as innovative green buildings and vertical forests inspire more sustainable practices.