I recently attended a lecture by one of our professors here at Newcastle University, Tim Townsend, whose expertise focuses on that of salutogenic cities and the urban impacts of green/blue spaces. This field of study is one that greatly interests me, and so the topic I shall be discussing in this post is the importance of not just ‘green space’, but the multi-faceted importance of nature within the urban environment.
Within this canon, I will focus primarily on the importance of green space in cities through the education sector. I believe there is a case to suggest it can provide a platform for future generations of natural ecological thinkers.
There is a contested definition of health between the World Health Organisation (WHO), who recognise it holistically as a state of ‘complete physical, mental and social well-being’1 as compared to the world of research that focusses on health as a medical topic. From this, we can infer the WHO views health from a salutogenic perspective, that is to say, it seeks to better understand and promote the positive aspects of human experience, to provide a greater sense of coherence within the world2.
Where better place to start this philosophy of living than childhood?
Forest School education is becoming an increasingly popular method of learning across many parts of the world. Originating from Scandinavia, Forest Schools take place in natural woodland3, predicating themselves on many principles that consider salutogenesis as a pedagogical practice. Some of these principles I shall come to shortly.
But firstly, what does this have to do with green space?
Green space provides a multitude of benefits to a city. In the form of parks, sports fields, woods and wetlands, green space is a ‘fundamental component’ of urban ecosystems4. They are widely recognised as places of physical activity such as walking, running and cycling, socialising, dwelling and eating, plus activities made exclusive by the seasons of the year. However, it runs deeper than these arbitrary examples. Green space is also a place for thinking, and for learning.
Modern urban design principles seek to improve social activity, but that is not to say that it cannot be in the form of woodland. In an interview with Architectural Review from 2014, Prince Charles outlined ten key principles for a more ‘mature’ urban design approach, suggesting we ‘reclaim our humanity and our connection with nature’5, a nod to the fact most cities have become capitalist playgrounds of hubristic shape making, with little consideration of nature.
Lisa Salmon of the BT advocates the social and pedagogical benefits of forest schooling, collating the multitude of benefits into nine concise key aspects6:
- Building Confidence and Independence
- Feeling Empathy for Others and Nature
- Physical Fitness
- Health Benefits
- Improved Mental Health
- Learning by Experience
- Exposure to Manageable Risk
- Better Sleep and Mood
- Learning about Spiritual Meaning
All of these points could be subject to their own unique conversations, but one thing they all culminate to do is equip children with a conscious approach to exploring and existing within the outdoor environment7. Beyond the salutogenic philosophies embedded within this practice, Forest Schooling develops the emotional and spiritual connection that recognises beauty in all forms (and seasons).
An example of a metropolitan forest school is Les amis de la montagne in Montreal, which affords children in an urbanised area the opportunity to immerse themselves in natural green space. Providing a crucial ‘link between children, nature, and Mount Royal8, the forest school programme develops a vital balance between immersion with the natural world and excessive use of technology. If ecological and sustainable thinking is desperately required, this program is a chance to make these topics implicit in the way future designers may think.
With the use of forest schools as a catalyst, urban environments can begin to change and redevelop a connection between cities and nature that is so fundamentally required in this modern age. Forest schools not only supply a profound reason to grow more woodland, but it also facilitates an alternative way of learning and teaching children from a young age the importance of the natural world, and our existence within it.
This post has approached green space development from a slightly different angle, but as a means of thinking about the future, a proliferation of forest schools in deeply urbanised areas could begin to nurture a future generation of implicitly ecological thinkers, something our current world sadly lacks.
- World Health Organisation, ‘FAQ’s – What is the WHO definition of health?’, (1948/2018) <https://www.who.int/suggestions/faq/en/>
- Mittelmark M.B., Bauer G.F., ‘The Meanings of Salutogenesis – The Handbook of Salutogenesis’, (Springer, Cham), pg.7
- Forest School Association, ‘Principles and Criteria for Good Practice’, (2018), <https://www.forestschoolassociation.org/full-principles-and-criteria-for-good-practice/>
- Black, Christopher, ‘Health and Sustainable Development – Urban Green Spaces’, (2018), <https://www.who.int/sustainable-development/cities/health-risks/urban-green-space/en/>
- Winston, Anna, ‘Prince Charles reveals 10 principles for ‘more mature view’ of urban design, (2014), <https://www.dezeen.com/2014/12/21/prince-charles-reveals-10-principles-for-more-mature-view-of-urban-design/>
- Salmon, Lisa, ‘Forest School: nine ways children benefit from learning and playing outside’, (2018), <http://home.bt.com/lifestyle/health/wellness/forest-school-9-ways-children-benefit-from-learning-and-playing-outside-11364276783242>
- Marsh, Danielle, ‘Study reveals how Forest Schools can benefit children’s development’, (2017), <https://www.lboro.ac.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2017/october/study-reveals-forest-school-benefits/>
- Les amis de la montagne, ‘Forest School on the Mountain’, (2019), <https://www.lemontroyal.qc.ca/en/things-to-do/forest-school-on-the-mountain>
Mount Royal: https://www.lemontroyal.qc.ca/en/things-to-do/forest-school-on-the-mountain
Stansted Park Forest School: http://www.stanstedpark.co.uk/education/forest-school.html