As part of my job I regularly travel around cities to meet clients and conduct business. This is not only in Birmingham (where my company is based) but also in other British cities including London and increasingly to cities outside Britain. From this personal experience and speaking to clients over the years, I have become all too aware of the personal stresses that cities can cause us as human beings. Even those people who live in major world cities such as London and New York (who we may think are acclimatised to this type of environment), the built up long-term stress from this general day-in day-out background stress can grind us down.
Thinking of this then, it is vital that we have relaxation space in the heart of our cities and major towns. On a recent visit to London during a rather hot and busy Friday, it was such a relief to walk through St James’s Park not far from busy Piccadilly. Even in the heart of a world city with over 7 million people, this green oasis with pleasant plants, trees, lakes and grassed areas had an instantly calming influence. Whilst sadly not having the time to stop and sit on a bench -though these were busy anyway- it was still relaxing just to get away from busy streets and pavements for 10-15 minutes and re-enter the street fully refreshed.
Indeed, studies have shown that the colour green has a calming effect upon us. It has been proven that heart rates and blood pressure slow when we look at and are surrounded by a natural green environment. While there is no scientific explanation for this effect, suggestions have been made that there is something in our psyche going back to the days of the first humans when people foraged and lived off the land – a similar reason why for the majority of us our senses are far more alert in the dark than during daytime.
With this in mind, it is also heartening to see that many new urban parks and seating areas have been or are being planned in our towns and cities – in Britain and overseas. Historic examples such as Central Park in New York (843 acres of land between 59th Street in the south and 110th Street to the north): Hyde Park in London and Flagstaff Park in Melbourne Australia, all have a worldwide reputation and offer invaluable relaxation space for their respective urban dwellers and tourists alike.
Even more heartening is the planning of new parks and recreation areas for relaxation in recent years. While it is true to say that there are also economic benefits to such parks -after all Central Park is a New York tourist attraction in itself and employs a large number of people- there are also major health benefits to be gained. Birmingham has a new City Park planned for its Eastside regeneration area (the first large park in the city for over 100 years) and Chavasse Park in Liverpool completely redeveloped as part of the Liverpool One development, with the car park sitting on land atop a large car park – provides a pleasant green area for the city.
Many cities also have indoor ‘Winter Gardens’ with one of the most recent additions I can think of being the Sheffield Winter Gardens in Yorkshire, completed in 2003 to celebrate the Millennium in the city. While on a slightly smaller scale compared to winter gardens in some other cities, it provides an all-weather seating and events area for the people of Sheffield.
While it is all well and good having one of these facilities on your doorstep, it is pointless if you don’t use it. This is something I have found whilst travelling about. Quite often in the past, I have been in so much of a rush that I have simply used such a place as a shortcut to my destination or looked in but never ventured there – let alone sit down and relax. There must be tens of thousands of people who work near these wonderful places -some with residences of workplaces looking out over them- who don’t use these areas to relax for whatever reason.
My advice is to do just this. Use these areas for what they are designed for – to relax. Even if it is just ten minutes for a quick stroll or sit down during lunch; a green and tranquil environment at the beginning, middle or end of the day can greatly help our personal relaxation and can make all the difference when trying to relieve stress. I know I will certainly be visiting these areas more often in the future!