Growing urban green spaces could sprout a natural cure for loneliness 

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
5 Min Read

A lack of green spaces within urban areas is constructing a pathway towards large-scale loneliness and mental health problems, experts say. 

As our nation’s cities continue to grow into endless concrete jungles, the sprawling built environment has cast a dark shadow over residents, young and old. 

But rather than being shielded from the sun, Aussies are instead blocked from feeling the glow of human interaction and living near nature. 

While our urban centres have slowly built up, so too has the number of people suffering from mental health conditions, many of which have their foundations based on increased loneliness. 

One in four Australian adults admit to feeling lonely, increasing their susceptibility to developing depression, diabetes, dementia, self-harm and suicide

Statistics show that 10 per cent of Aussies now feel depressed at any given time, with nearly half of us experiencing a mental health struggle at some point in our lives and almost one in five going on to have suicidal thoughts.

And we only have ourselves to blame, with failures in urban and city planning leading to the construction of what is known as a “lonelygenic environment”. 

A lonelygenic environment is one where interaction with humans and nature is reduced due to ineffective urban planning. This leads to a lack of social spaces, nature and opportunities for human interaction. 

Unlike most medical problems, there’s no pill to fix “loneliness”; instead, urban environment experts claim that constructing more green spaces could offer a cure to fix the nation’s loneliness epidemic.

But first, what are green spaces?

Green spaces refer to land within urban areas specifically reserved for the natural environment, including parks, gardens, and other plant life. 

Proven to create a more liveable and sustainable city, green spaces are becoming a popular inclusion in developing new areas or renovating existing urban spaces. 

Including these areas within urban areas has been proven to have many benefits, such as improved climate conditions, physical health and mental well-being. 

Can green spaces cure loneliness?

Not only have studies shown that green spaces can help people recover from loneliness, but they can also prevent loneliness from developing altogether. 

Experts say this “urban greening” may reduce loneliness by offering opportunities for comfort, social reconnection and stress relief. 

A longitudinal study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that a greening target of 30% of local land cover could cut the odds of becoming lonely by a quarter and up to half in those living alone. 

Meanwhile, a review of green space research from around the world showed that 66 per cent agree green spaces protect people against loneliness.

Scientists say community green spaces have this effect through their ability to bring people together, reconnect with nature, improve their physical fitness and create a sense of calm and wellbeing. 

The greener, the better

A higher-quality green space maximises opportunities for both social connection and mental health.

Constructing a high-quality green space could include ensuring it covers a larger area, is easily accessible, features children’s play apparatus, has space for exercise activities, ample shade, water sources, and a good variety of flora.

By including these features, studies have shown the space is likely to see a more varied number of uses, such as exercise, gatherings or stress-reducing activities – and the more activities a green space is associated with, the more visitors it is likely to receive.

This normalisation of association creates increased opportunities for those with more introverted personality types to feel comfortable socialising and taking part, thus helping them overcome the loneliness they may be experiencing. 

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.