Monday, June 10, 2013

A greener Chicago would be a safer Chicago

THE CHICAGO READER'S Steve Bogira blogs:
Greening a city can lower its crime rate, research increasingly suggests, and can make poor, segregated areas not only safer but generally more livable.
Here's the rest of his piece .

And my thoughts:

Well-maintained greenscapes do send a social message (which sociologists, naturally, would focus on), but there are other subtle effects of plants that you could call psychological, even spiritual. Plants, and trees in particular, have overall positive and calming effects.

U of I researchers found that children with ADHD “experienced a significant reduction in symptoms after they participated in activities in green settings. ...” For the full import of that finding, you must consider the high correlation between “ADHD,” substance abuse, and criminal involvement.


researchers found that inner-city girls who had green views from their windows at home possessed a greater degree of self-discipline than girls who did not. On average, according to the study, the greener a girl’s view from home the better she concentrates, the less she acts impulsively and the longer she can delay gratification. These capacities equip girls to behave in ways that foster success both in school and later life.

When girls have more self-control, guess what -- boys gotta have self- control too.

They also found “a greater sense of community, a reduced risk of street crime, lower levels of violence and aggression between domestic partners, and a better capacity to cope with life’s demands, especially the stresses of living in poverty.”

Perhaps to eons-old human instinct, trees and other vegetation mean shelter, fuel, and food, thus comforting the primitive part of our brain; conversely, their absence means famine and hardship. Trees also shelter birds, insect and animal life whose presence and sounds most people find comforting.

The U of I blog concludes, “trees and greenspace are not luxuries, but necessary components of healthy human habitat.” Humans are made to live in nature. Without it, we are in a way, less human.

Other benefits of green life: Plants provide oxygen, which we need for normal functioning and clear thinking, and shade in summer, which provides comfort.

Subtle plant aromas, especially from flowers, may also have beneficial effects.

Not to get too mystical, but the ancients believed in plant “spirits.” Humans and plants can become attached. When I was younger and I came home one day to find my parents had had an old tree in the front yard cut down – one that had been there my entire life -- I felt angry and depressed for days. It was like they'd killed a friend.

The behavioral impact of eating more fresh produce or clean chicken, raised free-range, should not be underestimated.

Productive work supplies a sense of purpose that humans absolutely need. Almost every one wants to work, and farming is one of the oldest occupations. Doing it in community fashion actually reaches past America's tradition of widely separated large farms (due to large land grants and continual consolidation), back to more of a village configuration more familiar in the Old World. It allows one to cooperate and meet your community -- or to form one.

Farming is not usually thought of as an efficient use for urban land, but it's clearly much better than no use at all -- and in the bigger picture, could be a better use of space than a superstore selling thousands of goods from socially irresponsible corporations, if all the negative externalities of said goods were considered. While not a panacea (nothing is) it could be an important step in restoring crucial social capital.

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