After what has been one of the most challenging years in many of us’ s lifetime we took the plunge and officially launched Vertical Meadow. Perhaps, we are crazy however I think this year really is the year that people finally noticed and appreciated the nature that was around them. Only when we were given restricted access to it ‘our one hour per day exercise’ did we realise that we really missed it. Only when we were facing some of the most extreme pressures in our life time did we go outside to let off steam and appreciate the abundance of nature and its calming effect.
I have seen lots written about the public consciousness of nature since the lockdown. As someone who lives in central London I suddenly felt this calming effect as streets were cleared of the relentless traffic. An experience that stayed with me during the lockdown was a Parakeet that was perched on a low branch on the Euston Road, one of the most polluted roads in London, it was happy pottering around as the odd car passed by. Only when we stop tormenting cities with traffic, pollution, noise etc does it start to rebound. It shows what is possible if only we were a bit more sensitive and respectful of nature.
A recent report published by the UK Government Office of National Statistics I think captured this awakening amazingly with some great statistics which quantifiably showed the enormous increase in engagement with nature and in particular in parks. In London that equated to on average 20% increase in the use of local parks compared to a typical year. This however hid some of the peaks. In July and August this increase in annual usage of open greenspace spiked at over 300%.
Probably the result of people not going abroad for holidays. I saw the impact first hand as footpaths in Hampstead Heath became overcrowded and the surrounding grass got chewed up. It really struck me how we needed to invest more in our parks and greenspace to give more people good access.
Following the pandemic, government spending has increased on the NHS which is great, however, nature and green space for me is just an extension of the NHS. It helps with peoples mental health and thus keeps more people away from critical care. This is backed up by the ONS report that cited that 40% pf people in England said ‘visiting local green and natural spaces had been even more important to my well being’. 9 out of 10 people surveyed by Natural England said natural spaces were good for mental health and wellbeing. These free services provided by nature are taken for granted but as the recent Dasgupta report on the economics of Biodiversity shows th economic value is enormous and should be accounted for.
Which brings me back to our cities. If the built environment and our cities were generally greener and full of nature maybe we wouldn’t then need to go and escape from our cities to reduce our stress. Perhaps our lives could be inherently better balanced. We are not getting any more major parks in our cities so we need to look for cleverer ways to bring nature back in. We think greening facades offers a very visual opportunity for bringing nature back in and hopefully helping to bring this much needed balance we crave.