Health and Wellbeing – Green Cities

Health and wellbeing, as an issue in cities, is becoming an increasingly important agenda. I took the picture below last year in Paris. I have visited this street several times over the last five years. Paris is a relatively ungreen city compared to say London or Berlin. However this is not about the relative merits or not of cities and their greenery. It is about what the picture says.

health and wellbeing - what does this picture say to you?
What does this picture say to you?

I can’t find the original – I just have the one above where I sketch out what the image said to me.

Use of green to market health and wellbeing

You couldn’t get a shop that is more about health and wellbeing than a Pharmacy. Here it is clearly advertising its wares in light green. When you look at the adverts on the shop front most have green lettering and use plants to attract the eye. This is all good. I can plainly see why the marketeers are doing. However, it is all rather clean. In fact it is all rather clinical which again is expected.

As I am involved in urban green infrastructure professionally this clean, neat use of ‘green’ to promote health and well being comes with a slight negative side. There is a need for it all to package up and deliver like a pill from a bottle. You buy the pill, you take it and you know what you are getting – a cure. Real landscapes that works and delivers health and wellbeing aren’t necessarily so formulaic as a pharmacy product.

Trying to bring and health and wellbeing to a balcony

What actually drew me to this scene, was not the Pharmacy. It was the balcony in the top left hand corner and it is rather sad. The creepers are brown and dead. Now I don’t know why? Someone bought them, looked after them and then moved on. Or they bought them installed them and were sold a dud. But someone wanted some vegetation on their balcony to brighten up their lives.

That is the point.

Like so many urban residents, this person want nature in their lives. Whether it be a vine on a balcony or a park to play in across the street. Even with the rise in interest in green infrastructure, these elements of the urban fabric are still seen as add-ons. Nice if you can afford it, but all too often costed out.

Meaningful Urban Landscapes for health and wellbeing

In many ways Paris is a good place to look at urban landscape – France is after all the home of the Versailles approach to gardens and urban spaces. Lollipop trees, perfect symmetry and aesthetics. But that principal is not actually how nature works. But designers cling onto it. They are good and nature is to be define by our principles of order.

Jardin Éole – Paris
Jardin Éole – Paris

Fortunately things are changing. Across the railway line from where this picture was shot isa great park. It is great park because it has a sizeable area of shingle garden. Now that’s my kind of thing. It reminds me of Dungeness. This is a dry garden – full of native plants. And it was part of the park that was there to ‘reflect’ the habitat that was once there – railway sidings. I find this far more inspiring and reassuring than most of the urban landscapes I encounter in cities – all over the world.

Health and wellbeing is also about removing ourselves from the over managed and manicured spaces that make up most of our cites. All parks and gardens are good.

But they could be some much better.

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