By Madeleine Langechenier

Even though we might not see the immediate affect they have on us, urban forests and green spaces play an important role in our lives by having a positive impact on our mental and physical health (Akpinar, Barbosa-Leiker, & Brooks, 2016). Studies show that in urban areas with green spaces, people walk and bicycle more when commuting, rather than taking other modes of transportation (Pietila, Neuvonen, Borodulin, Korpela, Sievänen, & Tyrväinen, 2015). Another health benefit of green spaces is the protection against ultra violet radiation rays (UVR). These rays can be stopped by the shade from trees, helping decrease the chance of skin cancer (Na, Heisler, Nowak & Grant, 2014). As more people recognize the health benefits of urban green spaces, communities across Canada are considering these benefits in their urban forestry planning strategies – some examples include integrating health considerations into urban forest management plans (UFMP), creating policies that advocate for shade, and hosting community events highlighting green spaces. These initiatives are improving public health and urban forestry sustainability.

Urban forest management plans (UFMP) ensure the maintenance, protection, and continuation of urban forests. For example, the cities of Lethbridge, AB, and St. John’s, NL, explicitly consider human health benefits in their UFMPs. The City of Lethbridge, AB, UFMP states that trees “add beauty and improve personal health, create feelings of relaxation and well-being, and make life more enjoyable” (City of Lethbridge, 1991). Comparatively, the City of St. John’s, NS, states that trees “make people feel good” (City of St. John’s, 2006). Urban forests and green spaces are not just aesthetically pleasing, but they also have a positive impact on our overall health, UFMPs that take this into account improve the lives of their citizens.

The City of Toronto is taking health very seriously in terms of urban green spaces. The City has made a plan to increase shade and decrease the likelihood of cancer in its citizens. Under the guidance of Toronto Public Health’s Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition (TCPC), the City passed the Shade Policy and Guidelines in 2010. The Shade Policy aims to reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) by increasing shade provision (natural, built or mobile) in any new development or redevelopment within the City of Toronto. The Shade Policy also includes recommendations for planting various species of trees (e.g. trees that provide the most amount of shade, or that are the easiest/hardiest to grow). The first of its kind in Canada, the City of Toronto’s Shade Policy has garnered national attention – other cities are now contacting the TCPC to develop their own policies.

Many communities are hosting events to raise awareness about the connections between urban green spaces and physical health. Most cities agree that the presence of healthy urban green spaces can encourage people to get physically fit. The City of Richmond B.C. has many community events to promote physical health, while also interacting with nature, like the Beyond 4 Walls parent and tot program, inviting parents and their toddlers to the Terra Nova Rural Park for gardening and playing in nature. On the other side of Canada in Mount Tyron, Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), Sheila Arsenault has developed Treetop Haven. This outdoor hotel has dome-like, tree forts nestled into the forest, close to walking trails and Confederation Bridge, each fort is named after a bird native to P.E.I. Treetop Haven includes a program called Forest Bathing, which involves a relaxing trip into the forest while inhaling phytoncides (wood essential oils) to help you relax and rejuvenate. Forest bathing (shinrin-yoku), developed by the Forest Agency of Japan in 1982, is said to help with all sorts of stressors and physical ailments, and is practiced frequently in Japan. Treetop Haven will officially open in May 2017.

Overall, Canadian cities are improving the state of their urban forests by engaging in activities that make direct connections between greenspaces and human health. There are many other efforts being done in Canada – these were a few highlights.

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Sources:

  1. City of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. St. John’s Urban Forest Management Master Plan, prepared by Environmental Design and Management Limited (EDM). http://www.stjohns.ca/sites/default/files/files/publication/St.John%27%20Urban%20Forest%20Master%20Plan.pdf
  2. City of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Community Service Directorate. Urban Forestry Management Plan. 1991. http://www.lethbridge.ca/living-here/My-Community/Documents/Urban%20Forestry%20Management%20Plan%201991.pdf
  3. Akpinar, A., Barbosa-Leiker, C., & Brooks, K. (2016). Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, Does green space matter? Exploring relationships between green space type and health indicators. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening. 20, 407-418.
  4. Na, H., Heisler, G., Nowak, D., & Grant, R. (2014). Modeling of urban trees’ effects on reducing human exposure to UV radiation in Seoul, Korea. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 13(4), 785-792. Available online: https://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/jrnl/2014/nrs_2014_na_001.pdf
  5. Pietila, M., Neuvonen, M., Borodulin, K., Korpela, K., Sievänen, T., Tyrväinen, L., (2015). Relationships between exposure to urban green spaces, physical activity and self-rate health. Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, 10, 44-54.
  6. City of Richmond, British Colombia, Canada. Parks, Recreation & Culture Guide, 2017 Winter-Spring Guide. http://www.richmond.ca/parksrec/about/guide.htm
  7. Treehouse Living: A peek at unique P.E.I. accommodations. (2017, February, 3rd). The Chronicle Herald, Retrieved from: http://thechronicleherald.ca/
  8. Treetop Haven, 2017: http://treetophaven.ca/