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Living Near Trees, Not Just Green Space, Improves Wellbeing (citylab.com)
664 points by Osiris30 on Aug 2, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 202 comments

Unsurprising result.

I was so sad (figuratively speaking) when we moved from an older office - but one which had trees all around and even running water - to a very modern, but boring open floor glass paned antfarm-like building.

After some time I got literally depressed. Walking around the concreted block did nothing for me anymore. No trees, no water, no birds, no squirrels. Just cars and a lot of heat in the summer - and a lot of wind during the winter.

I work in central London and feel the same way. Coworkers are often surprised that when I moved to London, I chose to go quite a bit north and have to take the tube for 45 minutes to get to work.

But I live on a one way street with no traffic, and when I look outside my window, there is a giant field of grass with lots of huge trees.

I can go outside, lie down in the grass, enjoy the peace and quiet. I will watch the squirrels outside on my days working from home, trying to fight the crows for food. The crows outsmart them every time, without hesitation. It's part of what keeps me sane in this big city.

London people are funny. They thing if you are outside of Zone 2 that you are "out in the sticks" (an idiom for "living in the countryside"), make fun of you and desperately want you to want to live in London.

It's not funny, it makes sense. Imagine what would happen if you are living in zone 3+, and your friend/partner lives in zone 3+ on the _opposite_ side of London. You could easily have a 90 minute travel time between those two points. In most places a travel time that long would count as being in another city.

That's not a reason to live in central London just in case it happens, unless you're that myopic you can't imagine meeting some from Reading, or further afield.

Well you could’ve move in with your partner, and meet your friend somewhere. I get what you are saying but London is damn expensive so living out a bit makes sense for many people.

Most people go through a period of time where they are 'dating' someone but not ready to move in.

Yep this is the stay over for the weekend (and some weeknights stage). Totally doable up to a 2hr commute.

But it reduces the conversion of initial dating to something more permanent. Living nearby and being able to meet up at the last minute with little effort makes it so much easier, I think it’s why socialising at university is so much easier.

Living further away requires a greater activation energy to lead to stable bonding.

That happens in Berlin too.. if you're out of Kreuzberg/Mitte/Prenzlauer Berg, you're too far away

In the same time it takes to get across London one can easily be in Lincolnshire via the East Coast Main Line, though the £8k annual season ticket to King's Cross is a bit of a whack.

London has a lot of trees for a city. More trees than people, apparently. 8 million trees covering 21% of the land area, according to London.gov.uk.

It's interesting to look at it on Google Maps, it's greener than many people expect.

Why do people say London density is so bad when there are homes with trees only 45min away?

I don't think I've ever heard anyone say London density is bad. London _sprawl_ is bad, and one problem is how low density London actually is. More density would mean more housing available near the centre.

Because 1.5 hours is a lot of time out if only 24? Unless you live to work.

Eh - I see diminishing returns around smaller public-ish transit (!) commutes. The difference between a 15 minute commute and a 45 minute commute wasn't significant for me. I can still pay bills, answer personal mail, read a book, and talk to friends on my way to work. I imagine folks at the end of the tube line in London feel the same way.

Driving that commute though? Never.

For a while my commute was 1.5 hours each way. I found it intolerable and moved, but I have coworkers who commute as long or longer. London is starting to sound good.


(Hello from the Bay Area)

London has a lot of trees actually. It's Europe's most tree covered capital city. It has more trees than people.

Suburbs around Central London don't have a super high population density, and are quite green. Many houses have a garden, and there are lots of parks.

Idk. London has amazing parks. Hampstead Heath being my favorite.

Johannesburg is said to have the second most amount of trees after Berlin, and all of the trees (in contrast to Berlin) were planted. It's a pity that politics take precedence over an unassuming fact like this.

I think you made the right tradeoff there.

I once worked at a place that had a mile of walking paths through an adjacent prairie. I walked it every day that the weather was nice and it was amazing. I was so sad when I changed jobs and the office was in the city.

I have been stuck inside my house for a month, with a month to go thanks to some broken bones. The house sits across from a park with big trees, lots of birds and people playing sports. I can feel my change in mood and contentment when I look out the window or sit on the porch (weather and mobility permitting). There's also a general ambient pleasantness knowing I'm within the greenery even though I'm inside. It's been keeping me sane!

I'm lucky enough that most of our city is like that, incredibly green. But I have worked in some pretty grim buildings, and would never take an office without windows anymore.

We ridicule Milton Waddams, but at least he could appreciate the value of sitting by the window and watching the married squirrels.

I'd be curious to know if this also applies to people to people.

I mean, what effect does population density have on an area. Does more density create better health outcomes or less density?

yeah totally. I will take jobs that pay less but have an interesting office location, usually in a less developed outer area of the city where vegetation and lots of walking space exist

This is something that bugs me about Old Street/Silicon Roundabout in London.

I moved office from the Borough Market area (not exactly the most tree lined part of London) to right near the Old Street roundabout and the lack of greenery, traffic and general noise and density is grim in this part of the city. Despite that it’s the most desirable post code for a tech startup.

Come to Brighton.

You guys have trees inside the office? Can you explain how that works? Plants I understand, but not trees.

I've been in a few places with inside trees: Most notably, "Arby's" (a fast-food restaurant) and nursing homes.

Sometimes, places simply have a hole in the foundation that allows access to the ground. These holes often have more dirt on top and can support a rather tall tree. Other places have large containers of dirt which support smaller trees.

It really isn't much different than folks planting trees in the middle of the sidewalk or trees/shrubs in large pots outside, honestly, except for the fact that it won't rain indoors.

Uh, and sunshine.

Proper windows give lots of sunshine. Greenhouses are full of them. You can also mimick it by the right lighting.

If I were really going to include something I missed, though, it'd be wind.

bonsai trees?

People need high quality cages with open floors... Not nature, take paradise put up a parking lot... It's more profitable.

Living near trees implies living in an area where space usage is prioritized for nature instead of the stacked concrete boxes most people (have to?) live in. It is likely a less stressful environment overall than places filled with just concrete walls, asphalt and, at best, some grass.

Personally I find tree tops swaying in the wind oddly hypnotic and relaxing. I've thought of why... One reason could be that babies around here are (like I was) put into baby trolleys to sleep outside, summer and winter. If living near trees, chances are that tree tops are the last thing one sees before sleep and the first thing when one wakes up.

From the article:

> In recent years, study after study has found that living in neighborhoods with abundant green space is linked to positive health outcomes.

But it specifically calls out trees as more beneficial than other green spaces.

> But when it come to promoting human health, not all green spaces are created equal. That’s the conclusion of new Australian research, which finds higher levels of wellness in areas marked by one particular manifestation of the natural world: leafy trees.

So it's not contrasting "nature" vs. "stacked concrete boxes", it's comparing "green space w/o trees" (e.g. a lawn) to "green space with trees" (e.g. a park with trees).

I think the OP may have a point, though. You can have an area with lots of big buildings, take one lot and make a "greenspace" with it: some grass, a fountain, some bushes. But to make an area with trees (especially plural), you need some place fairly wide, that has light, and has enough ground water to support the trees. An area that supports those trees will have to be less built up than the average area that can support a lawn (which just needs a patch of light and a sprinkler) for instance.

From that perspective, I wonder to what extent the studies (which seem to be based on Australian cities) is biased by the types of environments that generally have trees in Australia. If you have have an avenue that is totally canopied by 100 year old trees like in some US or Canadian cities, is that enough? Or do you need a fairly large green space that also has trees? I wonder because I always found residential areas with old trees on relatively small lots to be really claustrophobic (but I know people who love them, of course).

> An area that supports those trees will have to be less built up

You reminded me of Central Park. I wonder what it will be like in 20-40 years:


This NatGeo issue also had some cool city renderings:


Individual trees don’t need that much space or even light. You regularly see them planted in sidewalks for example.

Further, they evolved to grow in forests when even small openings showed up in the canopy.

There are plenty of areas in Australian cities with older tree-lined streets, so that should be covered in the study.

There was a period in my life where I suffered a severe psychotic break and spent several weeks in a mental hospital. The thing that got me well enough to be discharged was a portable cd player and a handful of mix cds one of my friends brought me, but what allowed me to fully recover was spending the next 3 months at my parent's house mostly watching the wind ruffle through their collection of Japanese Maples.

Sounds like an interesting story. What made you snap - if I may ask? No judgement. Had episodes too but w/o hospitalization.

It was being dumped by my girlfriend while I was on LSD that started the downward spiral, but at some point I became convinced she and perhaps other people were robots and government agencies were trying to kill me, so I stopped eating and sleeping for over a week which really pushed my brain into the deep end. I made it fine taking care of myself for a few weeks after that even though I was convinced people could hear my thoughts, the songs on the radio were talking directly to me, and God was intervening directly in my life. Eventually I was walking along the middle of a 4 lane road at 4 or 5 am because I couldn't decide which side to go to and both options seemed terrible. The police picked me up and asked me where I was headed. I told them I was trying to get to the beach and they offered to drive me there, but then they took me to the hospital instead. The doctors asked me to draw a clock. I started drawing a digital clock and tried to ask what time they wanted the clock to say, but they thought I was just asking what time it was and they were expecting an analog clock so they locked me up. In the hospital they gave me Ativan which sent me even further down the hole. I have legitimate memories that still feel perfectly valid of travelling hundreds of years into the future on that crap. (In the future everyone was blasian and Google controlled the rotation of the earth to maximize solar exposure to their solar panel farms, much to the detriment of many global citizens.)

Deciding to start cheeking the Ativan and listening to the music my friend brought got me sane enough to start shaving my face, which was apparently all they needed to see. At the time of my release I was still wholeheartedly convinced that there were lizard people among us.

Vancouver (and to a lesser extent Seattle, Washington, DC & Atlanta) do a great job mixing the urban forest and density. Many European cities do as well. Living in concrete boxes doesn't mean there has to be a dearth of trees. It's just most North American cities don't really invest in their trees (heck they don't even invest enough in our kids, so trees are pretty far down on the priority list).

Some cities do have tree canopy goals and survey for tree cover, for example, here’s seattles website linking to some reports: http://www.seattle.gov/trees/canopycover.htm

And raw dataset: http://data-seattlecitygis.opendata.arcgis.com/datasets/0b8c...

I remember seeing canopy goals in some southern cities as well, think it depends on bioregional factors along with citizen/cultural interest.

Urban planning in US cities is pretty shit. Even the “well planned” green cities could use a lot of work.

Totally agree about Seattle. Even downtown has a lot of large, beautiful trees. So pretty there.

Stacked concrete boxes are an efficient way to preserve space for trees. Rows of houses and strip malls are.

Housing density and treespace are separate issues.

> One reason could be that babies around here are (like I was) put into baby trolleys to sleep outside, summer and winter.

Finland? Sweden?

Finland for sure


I've certainly let our child have a nap on the balcony, wrapped up in warm clothing, in temperatures between -5°C and -15°C.

Both! Finland when I was small and I've done it myself in Sweden. Other Nordic countries do it too.

stevekemp posted a good BBC link.

Pretty common practice in parts of India too.

Setup a network of putted plants around your living room, setup a mini water reservoir and connect it daisy chained to all the plants with a pump and drip system, hookup a few optimally tuned LED lights spread above, hook the lights and pump up to a time to run when you're sleeping.

It's evolution. The windows XP homescreen w/ the rolling green hills was chosen b/c it puts us humans at ease. Our monkey brains like wide open pastures b/c we can easily see any incoming predators making us feel safe.

In the article, wide open pastures with no trees were "associated with higher odds of psychological distress." Don't our distant (monkey) cousins live in and amongst trees, usually?

Open pastures with no tree cover just mean easy pickings for an incoming predator, so maybe that hints at why it causes us "distress."

The protection-from-predators theory is interesting, and sounds plausible. I've always disliked nature that was too much groomed also, like perfect lawns, shaped bushes, parks with only two types of trees in them, or whatnot. Sterile, human-made nature. It always lacks diversity - there are few insects, fewer birds, and no larger animals in such environments. I always thought I disliked it because I love nature and wasn't stimulated enough by such barren wastelands, but I guess ut could actually be my monkey brain complaining about a lack of food/foraging opportunities there.

The article suggests that something else---something particular to trees, not just open green spaces---is at work here.

> More intriguingly, they also found that exposure to low-lying vegetation was not consistently associated with any particular health outcome. Exposure to grass was, surprisingly, associated with higher odds of psychological distress. The wellness-boosting feature, then, appears to be the trees.

> The researchers report that living in areas where 30 percent or more of the outdoor space is dominated by tree canopy was associated with 31 percent lower odds of psychological distress, compared to people living in areas with 0 to 9 percent tree canopy. “Similar results were found for self-related fair to poor general health,” with tree-rich residents reporting better health overall, the researchers write.

Trying to help you fight the down votes. You might be technically wrong because you forgot the most important part: the hill. Humans love high ground more than we love trees, for the reasons you cite. Treeless flatlands are terrifying.

I’ve worked in an office where they gave me Windows 2000, but I didn’t mind because I could see the XP scenery when looking out the office window :-)

That famous background makes me nauseous ever since the first time I saw it (and not due to the context of being used for XP)

Wow, such an interesting perspective. I never thought about it that way!

Can we get a title change from "Improves" to "Associated With?" The causal affect is mentioned nowhere but the (incorrect) title. All of the content and quotes from the authors use "associated with."

Interesting.. it doesn't seem likely that wellbeing causes trees. So what are the other possible arrows of causation? Maybe healthy people choose to live near trees?

> it doesn't seem likely that wellbeing causes trees

Rich people have gardens. Poor people liver crammed together in city slums.

...is one story you can tell. These things are hopelessly intertwined with confounding factors, and I never pay attention to them. The ones interesting enough to go viral and show up in my feed are of course extra suspicious.

It could be that overpopulated places make people anxious and places with trees are usually less populated.

> it doesn't seem likely that wellbeing causes trees

Why not? Maybe people who feel well are more likely to care about their environment, and e.g. organize protests when someone wants to remove trees from their neighborhood. Meanwhile, depressed people will watch their environment deteriorate, and do nothing about it.

(I am not saying this is how it is, just proposing a possible causal mechanism.)

A possible common-cause explanation could be that some places are designed "for people to feel happy", and those contain trees, but also other things (parks? accessible sidewalk? or perhaps those are simply places where many nice people live?) which make people happy.

Richer people live in areas with more trees? Or, if they control for wealth and racial group and all the rest, try something like "health-oriented people prefer being around trees?"

Or something else causes both healthy people and living near trees.

The obvious one being

  wealthy people   ->   wealthy community
       |                      |
       v                      v
  good health               trees

The article says they controlled for income.

That's not the same as controlling for socio-economic status. A millennial living in a city-center apartment and a boomer living in a paid-up house in the suburbs might have the same income, but they have very different life circumstances and experience very different levels of stress.

They also controlled for "age, sex, annual household income, economic status (eg, employed, retired, or unemployed), highest educational qualification, and couple status".

Taken together those are likely to capture socio-economic status in all but a few edge cases. With a very large study size, and a huge result (30% difference) it's unlikely that it can be explained by socioeconomic status.

The study discusses this by the way.

>Taken together those are likely to capture socio-economic status in all but a few edge cases.

Socio-economic status is notoriously difficult to control for.


If this were a small study or found a small result, then edge cases like lower income millennials with no degree who live in inherited houses in wealthy areas with trees might skew the results.

If you disagree with the studies methodology fine, but I'm satisfied that authors have done their due diligence with respect to socio-economic status.

The authors, at least in OP, use "associated with" language.

It's usually much cheaper to live outside of a city than inside.

The problem with that is tree coverage drastically goes up again when you hit "broken washing machine on lawn" levels of poverty due to just the general amount of old growth in rural poor areas

This is true. Leafy neighborhoods also tend to be wealthy enclaves.

Potentially more wellbeing causes more independence causes the ability to live in less dense spaces with less support systems.

Not surprising. As someone who grew up in rural and suburban environments, big cities feel intensely depressing. I go there and nothing I look at makes me feel happy. I'm sure people who grew up there feel differently and see things I don't see, but for me Manhattan feels as dead as the surface of Mars.

Manhattan has Central Park, which is a forest. Compare vs the suburban sprawl of modern design where it's an ocean of tract housing with stunted little fresh-planted trees and I'd say the reverse is generally true. I can see the argument for rural living, but not for modern suburbia.

This is going to seem pedantic but like just sharing my perspective. Central Park sooo doesn't feel like a forest to me. It's like walking around a crowded lawn (ok maybe thats a bit dramatic). But Central park really doesn't do it for me; when I'm in NYC I need to spend time in Prospect Park (which is closerrr to a forest) or else I go crazy

Are you sure you’ve explored the whole thing? The crowded lawn is certainly one part of it but there are whole swaths up near 110th that are much quieter as well as large dense tree sections e.g. near the zoo.

Having a couple trees does not make it a forest. have you ever walked out in real nature?

This is in central park: https://www.travelblog.org/Photos/514446

Most is not like that mind you. But not bad for a city forest

Not the original complainer, but that looks quite sterile to me. Apart from the trees there's very little vegetation, beyong the odd fern - no moss, no rotting logs, no undergrowth or leaf-mold floor. It doesn't look moist enough. Just dry, dusty dirt.

Those are paths people walked on. Since there’s a lot of foot traffic they’re wider than regular forests.

But yeah, it’a city forest. Not the same as wild, but more forest-ty than the discussion implied I think. Most visitors only see the south park of central park.

Perfection to me is a land plot surrounded by woods with no neighbors for miles, maybe with a pond or a stream going through.

Manhattan feels like really one of the best cases for trees outside of rural areas. A large percentage of the residential neighborhoods are in walking distance of a big forest... even other boroughs of NYC are mostly worse for that. Some other cities have better weekend access to forests, e.g. in L.A. you can drive to the mountains, but there aren't many with better large forests actually in the city. Maybe DC with Rock Creek Park.

DC and the surrounding metro area both have a surprising amount of trees. I work in Tyson's Corner, not far from DC at all, and the view from the office is trees as far as the eyes can see with occasional outcroppings of towers. Rock Creek Park basically bisects the entire city as well.

Griffith Park (4,217 acres) isn't a forest exactly, but pretty close to it, and right in the heart of Los Angeles city.

Ah that's a good point! I even used to live in the LA area years ago, but I lived far enough east of there that the Angeles National Forest was much closer, so I forgot that Griffith Park exists.

Suburbs can have vast canopies. They just often choose not to, feeling bare grass is the most attractive.

(I personally don't understand the appeal of a neighborhood that has been methodically expunged of shade)

Trees are expensive to maintain if they are between closely packed houses. Wealthier suburbs have more trees than poorer.

> Trees are expensive to maintain

Not really. This is just a problem of poorly designed gardens, bad choice of species, and greed.

Trees are valuable and fine wood species are always in risk of being stolen. I said this after seeing this afternoon a street reformed and notice the space left by a big blue cedar and a nice Beech that suddenly dissapeared in the center of the field for no reason. Both around 80 years old and perfectly healthy.

Most people would freak if the bank in their street is robbed but don't even notice when the park in their street is robbed.

Rural and small town living is the way to go for me. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone here defending the aesthetics of cookie-cutter suburbs.

To clarify, I meant 80s and 90s suburbs, not the godawful European-looking Stepford-wife monstrosities they build now. Suburbs with tree cover where you may or may not be able to even see the house next door. The kind where every house looks different because it was built by a different company and none of the lots are smaller than half an acre.

That's not very dense even for suburbia. There is a lot of suburban housing from that era that doesn't look like that at all.

The difference with New York City is that it’s old and spent a lot of time and money on parks.

Any modern development will be a tree wasteland long term, as all of the topsoil is generally scraped away and sold, and the heavy equipment packs down the soil.

I agree re: suburbia, but for different reasons.

For people who actually grew up in nature, Central Park feels as synthetic as everything else in the city. Every inch is landscaped and planned out.

It's nothing like taking a walk in the woods, with the plethora of wild plants and animals. It feels like a sad attempt by a city to be less of a city, but you can't replicate or build nature.

I'm with you, having grown up rural I can't stand being in the city. Makes me feel boxed in and anxious. But I've got friends who are the exact opposite, one who grew up in NYC and now lives outside of Boston who has to get back to NYC at least once every two weeks or she gets depressed. But I've also got a son who grew up here rural with me and can't ever seem to get enough of NYC. So... takes all kinds, I guess.

It's because a lack of variation in people gets depressing. I live in the mountains with a population that's smaller than the small town I was raised in, in the LA metro. I need to get back to a major city at least once a month; I need to feel that enveloping feeling of wonder and possibility since things get to feeling so stagnant in the mountains after a bit; I need to see people driving at their ambitions with their mom and pop shops that have these creative gimmicks that you can tell they spent late nights thinking of as opposed to people on mountain time who don't really give a damn about their work and know that by simply existing they can scrape by.

To each their own. There are those of us that would die of boredom and depression in a rural or suburban environment. To us the city is where is at, especially a place like NYC.

boredom comes from within

I'm like you, I get tree withdrawal sometimes. I couldn't live in a desert either. Joshua trees or mesquite don't scratch the same instinctual itch.

What are you taking about? On Mars at least you can be left in peace (and in the darkness at night) to contemplate the wonders of the universe, for as long as your oxygen lasts. Try that in Manhattan.

I grew up in the city. Urban and rural is great but suburban is depressing. Socially isolating an fake nature with fewer trees in particular. Worst of both worlds.

I grew up in the burbs and am the exact opposite. After six months in London, I felt incredibly isolated when I returned to the burbs.

The aspect that no one is mentioning in this anecdote exchange: where their friends and family live.

This is another study that makes me wonder what the real cause may be. Areas with trees, in an urban setting, tend to be more expensive locations. So, is it the the trees, or the higher socio-economic status?

In suburban and rural areas where trees are more common, even if the cost of living is low, everything is less dense, people tend to have larger dwellings at lower prices, etc. So, again, is it the trees or the other covarying factors?

Are there any studies like this that transform an area into a green space (with trees, I suppose) and show pre/post outcomes? Ones that weren't driven by the community? (Where that could indicate it was simply a nicer more cohesive community, with that as the cause instead of the green stuff)

That said, this is the sort of result that feels like it should be true, but then those are the results we should most be thorough about our methods to avoid confirmation bias. Research is hard!

They say in the article that the study corrected for a wide range of variables including age, income level, etc.

Did they correct for people’s behavior or skills that would cause them to choose one place to live over another? Living in a regional or rural area is within most people's means as long as relevant work is nearby.

Perhaps people who are more suited to the the sort of work that is more often done in densely populated areas are inherently more depressed.

A long time ago I was a student of a school that had some magical gardens, but some classrooms had the windows placed above the eye level, while others had windows where you could see the gardens (and little else). The difference in the environment, feeling and atmosphere in both areas (which were otherwise identical) was like night and day.

It certainly would be strange if wealth-independent happiness caused people to live near trees but trees didn't make them happy.

Except whether or not happiness is independent of wealth is an open question that, it seems, may lean more heavily towards "no, not completely independent". Here's one example [0] where they concluded non wealth factors were dominant, but wealth still ayed a part.


There are plenty of things that wealthy people do to signal their wealth that have little relation to their wellbeing or hapiness.

For better controlled research on the effects of green spaces have a look at Ming Kuo's work. E.g. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/245234610_Aggressio...


"Exposure to grass was, surprisingly, associated with higher odds of psychological distress."

I'm guessing it's the constant maintenance of a lawn that stresses people, and in this case, other people's lawns. That or you're a youtuber or streamer, and the constant sound of lawn equipment is driving you nuts.

Surprisingly, I find my lawn maintenance to be supremely de-stressing. I get to slap on headphones and listen to podcasts or music while doing mild physical labour that results in something becoming more aesthetically pleasing than it had been previously.

You don't have to be a youtuber or streamer to have the leaf blower drive you nuts - in a suburban setting, you're almost guaranteed a 7am wake-up call from one of these machines on a Saturday. It just takes one punctilious neighbor.

Being out on the open plain exposes you to predators.

You have good points. I would add : constantly have to watch your steps to make sure you dont walk on some animal poop, or some angry bee/hornet that was just lying there

Grass at the neighbors is always greener even for youtubers.

There is a tree directly outside of the window right next to my bed. In the morning, I watch the variety of birds (changing with the seasons) flit around the branches, socializing with each other. It's simple, but a highlight of my day. I'm moving in a few weeks and this tree will be one of the things I miss most about my apartment.

I live in Sheffield, which is about as green as cities get in the UK. I try and walk every day - you can walk from my front door through woods all the way into the Peak District and stand a good chance of not seeing more than a couple of souls. Lately my son has started joining me and honestly, it’s just the most nourishing part of my life at the moment. I am not sure I could survive on the huddled trees and pruned green rectangles disbursed throughout somewhere like London, and even the more extensive parks just don’t feel real to me.

Try somewhere like Hampstead Heath in London. It's basically a large (Google maps reckons 50 mins to walk from one end to the other) wild heathland with woods and lakes but with very little 'manicuring' but only 10 mins from the centre by tube.

Pics: https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=Hampstead%20heath&t...

Yeah I have been there. First, kudos if you live within walking distance. Second, it’s busy and still doesn’t feel very wild to me.

The article is: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle...

As a correlational study, and as with any study like this I'm worried that something they're not controlling for, or not sufficiently controlling for, is the actual cause. They say:

> Self-rated health, depression, anxiety, and risk of psychological distress have been previously shown to be associated with green space in some cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. A range of socioeconomic and demographic factors are likely to confound these associations by contributing to mental health outcomes and to neighborhood selection. Previous research suggests that these factors are likely to include personal socioeconomic circumstances, such as how much money people have, whether they are employed, and their level of education, and other factors, such as age, sex, and relationship status. Accordingly, in this study, we adjusted for baseline measures of age, sex, annual household income, economic status (eg, employed, retired, or unemployed), highest educational qualification, and couple status.

There are a lot of measures that affect human wellbeing that this doesn't take into account, however. For example, wealth and class aren't present. I understand why it would be hard for them to adjust for everything, but that also makes the study much less predictive.

I wonder if there are any natural experiments we could look at where blights or storms that caused sudden reductions in tree cover in a mostly independent fashion?

A well-known refrain, I know, but correlation does not imply causation[0].

Spurious Correlations[1] has been posted here many times[2], but a few representative examples may be worth sharing just the same:

Per capita cheese consumption correlates with Number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets

Total revenue generated by arcades correlates with Computer science doctorates awarded in the US

Japanese passenger cars sold in the US correlates with Suicides by crashing of motor vehicle

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_cau...

[1] https://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

[2] https://hn.algolia.com/?query=spurious%20correlations&sort=b...

Sure, but this article cites a large study that seems to correct for a lot of variables. Might be more productive to discuss specific aspects of the study you think are flawed.

One of the reasons I love Berlin. City. With LOTS and LOTS of trees.

That's my favorite thing about flying back into Atlanta--seeing the tree coverage.

Yes. Berlin to me in Summer is trees and bikes and water.

Same with the area around Golden Gate Park in SF, being close to so much well-maintained and curated nature is delightful. The place is a real treasure.

The words "well-maintained" and "curated" don't usually rhyme very well with "nature", IMO. Real nature is by definition unmaintained. When it's maintained it becomes a park/garden, and loses more or less all its diversity. Fine, if you just want to look at some green leaves (which is great in a city) but we shouldn't call it nature just because something is alive there.

Ya if you want to live in SF and have trees, Mill Valley is a far better choice in my experience.

Berlin has trees. I find it really dreary though. I clearly perceived some sort of “guilt heaviness” that pervades the area, with world war 2 monuments scattered around. I got a vibe that because a lot of people are children of people who were Nazis, they felt bad even though they didn’t personally commit the war crimes. It was pretty startling honestly coming from Northern California. Landing at SFO felt like returning to heaven.

This New York Times opinion piece goes into it in more detail https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/10/opinion/germanys-nazi-pas...

We specifically moved to a part of Boston with lots of trees. All the benefits of public transit, nightlife, and resources, but as I look out my home-office window right now, I see a big tree, a dog park, and very small forest of trees right behind that. I can't see another building, and its wonderful.

I moved to place with trees. Paid extra for that. After a year in, the forest died due to drought (and bugs). Now I'm looking at forest being cut down and removed. It's quite miserable feeling.

Make sure you look for native trees. They are much more likely to survive drought. Hard to say what to do about bugs which are likely non-native invasive species though. Other than plant a variety of different trees so bugs don't get them all at once.

I think its something to do with the complex, fractal imagery provided by trees etc. The simple planar surfaces of built spaces are profoundly unstimulating.

I feel the opposite. I'm way more prone to feeling overstimulated in urban environments. Though it's nearly impossible to say if that's from the environment, the people, or both.

Forests and beaches are both very calming to me though. I think it's the consistent, but non-threatening landscape and background noises and smells. I'm not over-stimulated by those natural environments, so I have peace to introspect. In cities I'm always watching my surroundings and trying to figure out where I am based on the buildings and roads around me, so I definitely feel like I notice and am stimulated by the city. I'm just kind of exhausted afterward and not able to relax because it demands so much attention.

I think it's also just the way trees breath. I live in a wooded area of my city, and when I go to the concrete downtown it just feels worse. Like it's much hotter, and the air is stale.

"Exposure to grass was, surprisingly, associated with higher odds of psychological distress."

Anyone who has had to maintain a lawn will likely find this unsurprising.

I wonder how much of that association is precisely because of this pressure/requirement in a lot of communities to maintain grassy lawns, rather than anything innate about grassy landscapes themselves.

I think you are on to something. I grew up in west Texas and while there was no canopy there were/are vast untouched lands of native grasses. I still get the benefits described when I go out there.

If you follow with some of the "ancestral genetic memory" theories, this makes sense. Our species came about in a grassland punctuated by rocky outcroppings and trees. Trees and rocks often meant safety from the predators below. Open grass meant exposure on all sides. We don't really think of ourselves this way anymore, but not that long ago, humans sat more in the center of the food chain that we currently do.

Around 800 square meters of lawn. Every week, or every second week, depending on season and rainfall, I plug in a mower and mow it, a bit of exercise and fresh air thrown in for free. If for some reason I skip a turn, grass and weeds grow a little taller. Where's the stress?

Not if you just mow it and let whatever grows grow.

I am a borderline lawn nut. After spending a lot of time getting the lawn well established, healthy, and vibrant, the on-going maintenance to keep it looking very nice is not particularly onerous. I doubt it's even 25 hours of total labor across the year, all told (for a 6500 ft^2 of lawn city lot).

I'm the opposite. I don't like lawns, not just for the looks but mainly because as far as biodiversity goes a trimmed lawn is almost dead. So I converted the lawns which came with the house into meadows. Nature thrives, and as far as maintainance goes it is also beneficial: depending on conditions I'm mowing twice or ideally just once a year. Even with a scythe it takes less time than standard lanw maintainance.

In 2008, I was living in Central Pennsylvania, taking many a weekend hike along a short section of the Appalachian trail that ran within a short drive from my home. Then I got assigned to a project in Bloomington, Illinois. I spent a month out there, this strange land completely devoid of trees. I never thought of myself as an "outdoors" person before that, I just liked hanging out with some friends and getting a little exercise. After Bloomington, I realized just how important trees were to my mental health.

I feel you. I've done road trips accross the country, and every time I go through those midwest states I get this low-key dread that I barely notice at first. But then, once I get to a place with rolling hills and trees on the horizon, I immediately notice how relieved I feel. I always attributed it to just wanting familiarity in the landscape, but maybe trees are a bigger part of that than I realized. The smell of forests is also much more pleasant than fields, so perhaps it's a combination of visuals and odors being "off" that makes me feel uncomfortable.

What are some great cities with surrounding nature for software engineers?

I was looking at Atlanta, GA which I heard has the most trees for a city.

According to Wikipedia, it has 47.9% tree coverage

Stockholm is not bad at all for a nature loving SW developer. I know lots of people who moved from here, to the valley (biggest opportunity), London/Berlin (bigger than Stockholm while still European cities) and lately some successful people started leaving for Singapore (taxes & climate reasons) but I don't think any of those offer the same nature opportunities. We have a pretty damn good tech/IT scene here, and from the city center you can go on a run and be in a huge, empty natural reserve forest within 20 minutes (it's about 2 miles out). You can also head out into the archipelago of 25,000 islands just east of the city. Lots of space, pretty unspoiled and accessible to all regardless of ownership, thanks to a law that gives the public the right to hike or camp anywhere in the country. I'd imagine there are few IT startup hubs that can compete in this. Portland maybe? Helsinki or the Baltics certainly have the nature, but smaller startup/tech scenes.

Atlanta is great! There are places like this[0] inside the perimeter. My old apartment had a trail down to the river and we would drive half a mile up the road and then tube back down to my apartment.

[0] https://www.google.com/maps/@33.8906588,-84.4418735,3a,90y,1...

Raleigh NC is called "City of Oaks" for a reason. I feel like it probably has more tree coverage than Atlanta, but it's much smaller too. Still, great place to live and a pretty solid tech scene between downtown offices (RedHat, Salesforce, Citrix) and RTP + Durham jobs a short drive away (SAS, NetApp, Cisco, Epic Games).

We also are working on a new 300 acre park project that's only about a mile from downtown, so I'm really excited to spend time there when Fall comes around.

Thanks, Raleigh is definitely in my top 10. I'm currently living in Texas so my nature options are pretty limited. I do appreciate not having an income tax though.

Helsinki has a forest smack in the center going north. slightly to the east is another green corridor going northeast and ending in a National Park (Sipoonkorpi) . There is another big national park (Nuuksio) just to the north west.

Helsinki central itself is sterile compared to actual forests.

Most of southern Finland however is deforested or wood plantations. About 5% of the area is natural state forest.

Sacramento has the "City of Trees" nickname.


IMO Sac is the best location in California if you're a outdoorsmen but need to be close to a city. I live 30 minutes east in the mountains and work from home.

If you live more towards Grass Valley it is gorgeous, but wow the greater Sacramento area is pretty devoid of nature. I would argue Chico is way more beautiful, if you are working from home already.

For the Bay Area, probably the best bets are Los Gatos if you work on the peninsula and Mill Valley if you work in the city ( San Francisco ). Requires a roughly one hour commute though, depending on time of day and the parking situation.

Portland, OR is a great candidate for this, IMO. In the city is "Forest Park" which is more like a forest than a park. There are tons of trails, and you're less than an hour from dozens of trails in the Colombia River Gorge.

I think of high contrast areas as having the strongest mood boosting. By that I mean river fronts, visible mountain ranges, the beach, the edges of forests. No doubt trees in cities are visually pleasing, living in the middle of dark dense forest not so much.

'round these parts, trees seem to perform two useful functions. They fall on houses during storms (quite common) or they burn down whole towns. Be careful what you wish for.

Right, Paradise CA is a great example of how dangerous that can be. Sure was a beautiful place though!

It's a bizarre, comical state when obvious things such as this (and similar posts like "Climate change will cause a financial crisis!") have to be explicitly spelled out and backed with "data."

That said, modern civilization, technology and "nature" don't have to be mutually exclusive.

See Japan, Switzerland, Singapore and similar places where there is plenty of unspoiled/augmented nature right next to some of the most modern/luxurious human habitats in the world.

The ideal balance would be something like the sci-fi'ish concept of arcologies [0]; monolithic, self-sufficient, clean megastructures surrounded by natural wildernesses for people to escape to at their leisure.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcology

>It's a bizarre, comical state when obvious things [...] have to be explicitly spelled out and backed with "data."

Throughout history there have been many "obvious" things that were widely believed and wildly inaccurate.

I wonder if green space and trees still improve well being if someone is allergic to them (not deathly so, just enough to be a nuisance). I myself am especially allergic to the flora around me, and I always dream of moving somewhere cold where everything is nice and dead and can't hurt me.

You can make your living space a low-grade cleanroom with a decent HEPA filter or two (the 99.97 kind) for at most a few hundred dollars. If I close the windows my apartment easily achieves a PM2.5 score of 0.

You can't so much create an "outside" environment for so little effort.

My biggest grievance with where I live is that being "outside" somewhere that concrete and brief strips of grass for dogs to pee in aren't the dominant space occupiers is work and I'm not just outside, I'm at a destination.

there are lots of species and often you are not allergic to all of them + there are some antihistamine pills ;)

The way that it seems to work judging by blood tests I've gotten over my life is that the more I'm around something, the more allergic I become, all of the things around me, the trees, the animals, the food I eat, etc. I've become extremely allergic to. If I go somewhere with completely new plant life I should be ok in theory, I have done this once and my allergens were pretty much gone, but I dont have reason to assume that they wouldn't come back. I've got some fucky gene stuff going on in general, and there are other reasons why the cold would be nice in general.. and i can guarantee that i have an extensive morning/night drug regimen, and have tried about every allergy med i could get my hands on, they can take the edge off, but it will never go away.

I moved to another city because the mayor of the previous city I lived in had some crusade against trees in that town.

Living near trees is the best. I have a cherry tree growing outside my window right now. Still miss the three poplars I used to have at my old apartment.

We recently moved to an apartment that is front facing the street with trees that you can see through the windows, and might be obvious but we're usually in much better mood than before, I think it's important to consider these things. The vibe of having a bit of nature and natural light changes things completely, might even inspire you to create more things. We used to live in apartments that were mostly surrounded by concrete and it was honestly a bit depressing. I suggest that if you have the opportunity, even if you have to pay a bit more, try to go for it, the quality of life improves tremendously.

Could this be caused by a deeply ingrained instinct from our hominid ancestors that associates trees with safety? Like Miles stated, correlation doesn't imply causation. It makes you think though!

It's not necessarily related to why living near trees improves well being, but I like the idea of Shinrin Yoku, or "forest bathing": https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20190611/forest-bathing-n...

Nice youtube mini-documentary:


I’ve noticed that there is always a lack of trees in impoverished areas. It almost seems like the trees are deliberately cut down in favor of concrete in areas designated.

I've always assumed thats because trees can be time consuming, take a lot of space and can be expensive to maintain. Essentially, in a city, they are a luxury.

Years ago, I went to a photography exhibition. Theme was the city. The artist's motivation was the idea that we - humans - live in a mineral world (cement, concrete, glass and bricks) now. But we evolved to live and prosper in high grass and trees, in an organic world.

Also, long ago I read that humans liked to sit on benches in park because it feels like we are hiding in the edge of the forests, looking for things from a safe distant place.

Reminds me of a public library in Hillsboro. Surrounded by trees, the place was a heaven of peace to work. It also had a coffee shop.


Interested if places with evergreen trees (e.g. PNW) fair better than areas with mostly deciduous trees?

Do Bonsai trees count?

No, at least not for the purposes of this particular study.

> The researchers report that living in areas where 30 percent or more of the outdoor space is dominated by tree canopy was associated with 31 percent lower odds of psychological distress, compared to people living in areas with 0 to 9 percent tree canopy.

My favorite part is the anti-NIMBY culture that usually dominates here is experiencing cognitive dissonance right now and they don't even know it.

Bring up housing in SF and the people complaining about no trees right now are suddenly shuffling everyone into tiny uniform boxes.

Could you expand on this? I'm anti-NIMBY but I don't understand your comment.

I don't think anti-NIMBY's are necessarily anti-trees or anti-parks?

The article mentions Overstory by Richard Powers

It's an amazing book.


I moved earlier this summer. My home office is situated in front of huge bay windows looking out into the canopy of a forest of 120 foot maple trees that my house is in. It has made a huge difference, especially when I'm doing tedious programming work.

Possibly related to the Biophilia Hypothesis [0].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biophilia_hypothesis

This finding fits in with other research that trees absorb fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). PM 2.5 is a hazardous air pollution from burning coal and many other sources.

So living in a desert should be correlated with psychological distress, right? Is that the case?

I bet living outside the city would improve wellbeing even more. At least it did for me.

> New research finds that, when a neighborhood’s green space leads to better health outcomes, tree canopy provides most of the benefits.

Is it the trees? Or is it the higher income status of the people who can afford to live in the nicer neighborhood?

Complete lack of control for irrelevant variables here.

"Tolkien was an unabashed partisan of trees". Hear hear

I wish I could go live in Bhutan.

yeah, no shit... who would'e thought. like homo sapiens ain't an animal.

Until a massive ice storm causes one of those trees to fall on your house.

yeah, it feels good

I hate when journalists confuse correlation with causation. It's one of the most basic things you have to know to be be capable of writing about science and the fact that they failed the first step tells me they shouldn't be journalists.

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