Terrain.org: The Breath of Trees Is Good for You

The breeze from trees might be more than just sweet-smelling, writes Terrain’s Joan Maloof in, “Old Growth Air”:

…I am breathing deeply of a forest gift that I had forgotten: the air! Americans have largely ignored this dimension of the forest’s allure, but the Japanese recognize it and have a name for it: shinrin-yoku, wood-air bathing. Japanese researchers have discovered that when diabetic patients walk through the forest, their blood sugar drops to healthier levels. The Japanese have hosted whole symposiums on the benefits of wood-air bathing and walking…

So what could be in the forest air that makes us feel better? In a study done in the Sierra Nevadas of California, researchers found 120 different chemical compounds—but they could only identify seventy of them! We are literally breathing things we don’t understand; which also means, of course, that when we lose these forests, we don’t know what we are losing…

The most abundant compounds given off by trees are monoterpenes. There has been a great deal of research done on dietary monoterpenes, and the good news is that they have been shown to both prevent and cure cancer. Many chemotherapy drugs contain monoterpenes. Lemon rinds, in particular, are high in monoterpenes. I could find no research, however, on the effects of inhaling monoterpenes…

Perhaps someday, when your physician asks you to “take a deep breath,” it will be the old-growth air that he or she is referring to.

I hope you don’t have to drive too far to reach it.

See also:

Irony of Infill: You Have to Drive to Enjoy Nature
A key assumption built into infill is that walking access to amenities associated with civilization takes priority over walking access to nature. If developers are permitted to aggressively pave over green spaces downtown, more residents will be compelled to drive if they want to enjoy parks and woods. Most likely their overall time spent in ‘unbuilt’ environments will decrease.

Rutherford Platt, “Regreening the Metropolis: Pathways to More Ecological Cities”
…Some strategies that have been identified by the Ecological Cities Project (www.ecologicalcities.org), based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, include

  • rehabilitation and restoration of older parks and urban green spaces;

  • protection and restoration of urban wetlands and other sensitive habitat;

  • preservation of old growth trees and forest tracts;

  • development of greenways and rail trails;

  • green design of buildings, including green roofs and green schools;

  • brownfield remediation and reuse;

  • urban watershed management…
Greening Smart Growth: The Sustainable Sites Initiative
Physiological functions, the core processes of our bodies, are positively affected by experiences with nature…

UMass Press: “Natural Land: Preserving and Funding Open Space”
In the city of Stuttgart, Germany, corridors of forest land have been preserved to provide a natural airflow through the dense urban environment, bringing clean air from the surrounding rural areas and diluting urban air pollution, as well as moderating the climate (Spirn 1984)…

Preserving areas of nature, open space, and trees and other vegetation can have psychological as well as physical health benefits for local residents. There is a growing body of research which points to the power of nature to restore people from the stress of modern life, including mental fatigue (Kaplan, Kaplan, and Ryan 1998; Frumkin 2001). The positive benefits of nature have been found in a range of settings and populations, including hospital patients’ recovery from surgery, office workers’ productivity and job satisfaction, children’s ability to concentrate and do well in school, especially those with Attention Deficit Disorder, and even prisoners’ health and behavior (Frumkin 2001; Ulrich 1984; Taylor et al. 2001; and Moore 1981). Urban trees can also have a positive impact on building community in inner-city neighborhoods (Kuo et al. 1998). Many residents do not need these scientific studies to persuade them–people appreciate nearby green spaces as places to enjoy after a hectic day at work.

Berkeley, California: Cautions on Infill
In 1990, 60 percent of New Yorkers said they would live somewhere else if they could, and in 2000, 70 percent of urbanites in Britain felt the same way. Many suburbanites commute hours every day just to have “a home, a bit of private space, and fresh air.”

Topographical Map Shows How Kohl Condo Proposal Will Eat Into a Rare Stand of Mature Trees in Downtown
We have enlisted OLIVER, The MassGIS Online Data Viewer, to show just how rare and precious the woods behind North Street are in downtown Northampton. These woods are part of Kohl Construction’s proposed 5.49 acre condo site…

Photo Essay: Our Woods in Winter

Photo Essay: The Forest Behind View Avenue

Daryl LaFleur: North Street Area and Urban Ecology
Constructing homes in the downtown area near existing services, infrastructure and public transit makes sense. However, the Urban Land Institute’s report on Springfield [PDF] suggests removing decaying buildings and creating more green spaces in Springfield’s downtown area as a way to enhance that city’s quality of life and lure people back to downtown. Springfield would like to create, on a larger scale, what Northampton currently has and one need only walk around downtown Springfield and observe the lack of urban green patches to understand why. Similarly, despite all of its problems, the Big Dig in Boston aims to add parkland and green recreational areas in an urban environment for the same reason, to improve the quality of life for inhabitants and give business owners a reason to stay put.

Boston Urban Forest Coalition Aims to Plant 100,000 Trees

Downstreet.net: “Despite Tree City USA Honor Northampton Planting Lags”

Smart Growth with Balance: The American Planning Association
All development — including redevelopment, infill development, and new construction in urbanizing areas — should plan for biodiversity and incorporate green infrastructure. Green infrastructure helps to maintain natural ecosystems, including clean air and water; reduces wildlife habitat fragmentation, pollution, and other threats to biodiversity. It also improves the quality of life for people.