Friday, September 18, 2009


It may surprise us developing Asians that Parisians, dwellers of one of the world's most spectacular cities, do not choke in their own smog. Nor do they rip out their hair after work. New Yorkers, meanwhile, don't even worry about having chicken to eat, daily! If your face is now green with envy, you just answered the question: it's due to city greenery, especially community gardens.

Parisians, in particular, have an especially powerful desire to green their city, and any barren space is thus turned into a park. This is, obviously, good for the environment, and subsequently, on city-dwellers' health. There is growing proof that leaves filter and trap pollution: in Chicago 234 tons of particulates, 98 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 93 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 17 tons of carbon monoxide are removed by trees. The phenomenon known as urban heat islands are also reduced as greenery provides shade, through transpiration, cooling water vapour. As a result, lifespans are lengthened; the French clock in at 80.98 years, while the equally green Japanese enjoy 82.12.

Vast city parks also have perceptible effects on human, especially child, development. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we humans evolved in a natural environment, unaccustomed to smokestacks and sirens. In an October 2006 article in National Geographic Magazine, Jeniffer Ackerman presented scientists' suspicions that green spaces boost voluntary attention, which controls how we cope under pressure; city life, naturally, makes us grumpy. A study by Frances Kuo of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory found that people living near greens were less agressive, scored better on concentration tests and managed daily problems more effectively.

The study also found that those dwelling in greener areas had a stronger sense of community- and its not hard to see why. Before the advent of air-conditioned megamalls and cybercafes, parks were the top meeting places for most people. Even now, they offer a sense of romance and companionship. Community gardens go a step further- various races coming together to share green thumbs in Paris are likely instrumental in maintaining goodwill. As Muslims also manage chicken "farms" in urban New York, expanding and upgrading public parks might give a little extra push to 1Malaysia.

But, selling these ideas about green spaces in Asia is hard, primarily because municipal governments and the public still oppose a city lot with only plants and no profits. Typically, authorities cover this materialism with arguments that they have no more space for parks, but then a stroll through Ipoh city reveals exactly the opposite: plenty of unused, disease breeding areas that could become parks. Parks are also, sadly, the first public amenities to be deprived of funding by cash-strapped towns, no thanks to their significant erection and maintenence costs.

This illustrates yet again that environmentalism improves our world by far more than simply cleaning our air or cooling our Earth. We all know we are but a strand in life's web, so improving the state of that web will benefit both our bodies and minds. How long before those providing the force for change outmuscle the inertia?

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