August 24 2012

Reducing Urban Stressors through Design: Nature in Amsterdam

Urban stress on the street

Moving from a low-density neighborhood afforded by a desert city to the compact built environment of Amsterdam mandates more of a mental and physical shift than I initially expected. For me, being around people is a positive experience. Hearing a neighbor’s shower turn on or door close can even be comforting: others are alive and well; however, living in an urban environment ultimately means experiencing more stimuli, and not always in a good way.

Noise from traffic, crowding, and fear of crime have encouraged an exodus to the suburbs in past decades, but with increasing numbers of individuals bound for urban cores (especially young adults), a balance between the built and natural environments is needed. Where home design can’t provide for a relief of a built environment, city design must compensate.

Over the past decade, researchers have found that taking a break in or within view of a natural setting (as opposed to built environment) is increasingly important to our health for the following reasons:

  • Relaxation and stress reduction;
  • Decrease in mental fatigue and/or restored mental clarity;
  • Quicker recovery for hospital patients and;
  • Enhanced childhood development.

Park in Amsterdam, Urban/Nature integration

Beyond just these benefits, urban nature can promote urban sustainability. As featured in Timothy Beatley’s Green Urbanism, the Netherlands (specifically, Cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Groningen, and the contemporary Town of Almere) is lauded for integrating nature and quality landscape design with the ever-increasing urbanity that our societies are experiencing.

After just two weeks in Amsterdam, integration of urban design with nature is evident.  I’ve already stumbled upon verdant canal pathways and well-occupied city parks where trees often completely obscure the built environment from view.

Still, residential preferences for the built and natural environments are increasingly important for urban planners to consider. Being a child of suburbia, I am still exploring with what quantity and quality of urbanity and nature I need or desire.

On the spectrum of “roof garden and urban park” to “edge of nature reserve,” what level of nature do you require?

Credits: Image and data linked to sources.

Ellen Schwaller

Ellen Schwaller is a former GRID blogger and graduate of Arizona State University's master's program in Urban and Environmental Planning. Spending most of her life in the sprawling sunbelt, it was a recognized desire for human-centered rather than auto-centered places that drew her to the planning field. With a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science, she looks for ways to integrate the natural and built environments to create spaces and neighborhoods that matter. A large part of her research has been in the realm of residential perception and attitudes and how this might inform city and neighborhood planning and design.

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This entry was posted on Friday, August 24th, 2012 at 4:48 pm and is filed under Environment, Environmental Design, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Social/Demographics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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4 Responses to “Reducing Urban Stressors through Design: Nature in Amsterdam”

  1. Jordan Rockerbie Says:

    I’m currently living on that later extreme: living inside a Canadian national park. At this time last year I was on the other end, living in Singapore. Both have been good for me in different ways, and when done right any natural presence is a good thing. I shudder to think of grey concrete jungles.

  2. Ellen Schwaller Says:

    I, too, have experienced both extremes; I think what I fear are the parking lot-dominated communities in suburban sprawl. Here, neither public or private space really provide sufficient natural environments for me.

  3. Jia Says:

    Hi, Ellen
    I agree what most of your opinion. Human needs nature in their lives, both urban and rural area. This is a important part of urban planners’ job, or like your said landscape design.
    But there are also a lot people don’t access nature surroundings, maybe because they are lazy, busy or they even don’t think it is important.
    So is urban nature could change people’s behavior?
    Or this is a education problem because there are so many children don’t go outdoors?
    Maybe when urban living lack of nature, the same time, they are missing a link between them?
    How do you think?

  4. Sol Says:

    I grew up in a small town in Maine and have lived in places like Colorado – I love nature, mountains, trees, rivers, lakes, you name it. It breathes life into me.

    Now I’m moving to Amsterdam in a few weeks to study urban sociology with an interest in bringing aspects of nature into cities and connecting natural human instincts and intimacies with their built environment/habitat.

    All is great, but I am concerned with how I will handle living in the city – any insight, advice or speculation?

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