Recent studies have shown that planting more trees in urban areas will lower temperatures and could help reduce deaths directly linked to hot weather and heat waves. These benefits are being explored in European countries where only 15 percent of European urban environments are covered by some foliage.
Barcelona, Spain, a city with one of Europe’s highest populations and traffic densities, has implemented the 2017- 2037 Master Plan for Barcelona’s Tree. The city will increase urban tree cover, improving the city’s environmental quality and citizens’ health and well-being. By 2037, the city will increase the overall tree cover by 5% so that trees cover 30% of the city’s surface area. It is said that the increase in Barcelona’s urban tree cover could improve the health of more than 30 000 people, reduce the use of antidepressants and save over $40 million in annual costs associated with mental health issues.
Studies have shown that people living 300 metres from a green space, park or nature reserve is enough to boost satisfaction and happiness. Living in urban areas, residing in a neighbourhood with a tree canopy of 30 percent or more reduces the chances of developing psychological distress, such as feeling nervous or hopeless. People living close to trees and shrubs and being able to watch birds were seen to reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and stress, thus highlighting that spending time close to nature can improve our mood. Forest bathing, sometimes called forest therapy, is the method of being calm and quiet among trees and observing the nature around you. It has been shown that forest bathing is good for physical and mental well-being as it improves feelings of happiness and lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
One of Barcelona’s streets is being transformed in the heavily polluted central Eixample district. The plan is to reclaim the street from cars and reduce pollution by prioritizing pedestrian and bike traffic. Many blocks will be closed off to traffic with plant pots and benches, play areas and green spaces, and many of the parking spaces will be replaced by seating areas. The goal is that no citizen will be more than 200 metres from a square or a small park. The city hopes to turn every three streets across the city into a green zone. Researchers studying the impact these green spaces will have are confident that the city will see a reduction in the number of cases of mental health problems.
If Barcelona reaches its 2037 goal of increasing tree cover, the city will see a better quality of air and environment and a happier society.