Biodiversity is the key to happiness


Challenge: improve health of urban dwellersCrowded New York street © Angel Lior

Natural inspiration: green spaces

Urban areas are home to half the people on earth.1 The urban environment is stressful 2, and urban dwellers are at increased risk of certain mental health problems compared to rural dwellers. 3  Part of the problem with urban living may be lack of access to nature.Girl on bench © Constantin Jurcut
Urban green spaces, such as parks managed by a local authority, give city dwellers some contact with nature.  Time spent in green spaces brings measurable benefits, including better physical health and improved ability to concentrate. 2  People have been shown to get more benefit from parks with greater biological diversity; that is, a larger number of species of plants, birds and butterflies. 4  People also tend to prefer parks with moderately dense vegetation, rather than more open, managed landscapes. 5 In a study in the Netherlands, 15 out of 24 major physical diseases were significantly less common among people living closer to green spaces. 6 Yet another study in Chicago showed that among people living in social housing, those with a view of green space coped better with challenges in their lives than those with a view of concrete. 7Happy child outdoors © Doriana_s
Children who play in green spaces, or who live areas with higher biodiversity, have been shown to concentrate better, play in more creative ways, have higher self-worth and cope better with stressful events, than children with less access to nature. 8,9  For girls living in high-rise blocks in inner cities, a more natural view from the window at home was associated with better scores in tests of self-discipline.  This is important because self-discipline may help inner-city children to avoid many of the problems to which they are particularly vulnerable, such as academic underachievement, juvenile delinquency and teenage pregnancy. 10  Children suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) also benefit from biodiversity: parents report their child’s symptoms are less severe after spending time in green surroundings. 11 Twenty minutes spent in a green park may actually be as effective as medication in controlling ADD symptoms. 12
Bench and graffiti ©Pjc/Dreamstime
Natural surroundings are good for our health.  High levels of biodiversity and access to green areas are turning out to be even more important than we realised for human wellbeing.  The current trends of biodiversity loss, and of lifestyles with limited contact with nature, may pose a threat to the mental health and social well-being of future generations.  An appreciation and understanding of biodiversity should be returned to the core of modern culture.









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1. The Millennium Development Goals Report, United Nations.  New York, 2007.
2. Berman, M.G. et al. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature.  Psychological Science 19:1207 - 1212
3. Paykel, E.S. (2000). Urban–rural mental health differences in Great Britain: findings from the National Morbidity Survey.  Psychological Medicine 30: 269-280
4. Fuller, R.A. et al. (2007). Psychological benefits of greenspace increase with biodiversity. Biology Letters 3: 390–394
5. Bjerke, T. et al.  (2006).  Vegetation density of urban parks and perceived appropriateness for recreation. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 5: 35-44
6. Maas, J. et al. (2006). Green space, urbanity, and health: how strong is the relation?  Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 60: 587-592
7. Kuo, F.E. (2001).  Coping with poverty: impacts of environment and attention in the inner city.  Environment and Behavior 33: 5-34
8. Faber Taylor, A. et al. (2006).  Is contact with nature important for healthy child development?  State of the evidence.  In C. Spencer and M. Blades, (Eds.), Children and their environments (pp. 124 – 140).  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
9. Faber Taylor, A. et al. (1998).  Growing up in the inner city: green spaces as places to growEnvironment and Behaviour, 30: 3 – 27.
10. Faber Taylor, A. (2001).  Views of nature and self-discipline: evidence from inner city childrenJournal of Environmental Psychology 21: 1 – 15.
11. Faber Taylor, A. (2001) Coping with ADD: the Surprising Connection to green play settingsEnvironment and behaviour, 33: 54-77
12. Faber Taylor, A. et al. (2009)  Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the parkJournal of Attention Disorders, 12: 402-409


Further reading

Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois

How the city hurts your brain and what you can do about it.  Boston Globe, January 2009

Green spaces improve health.  BBC News, October 2009

Natural Thinking.  Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, 2007 

GreenSpace – UK charity for parks and green spaces