Color: Preserving Nature Gives Urban Survival
By REBECCA TOOK | April 22, 2019
I never thought I’d like living in a city. The word conjures up images of a sprawling concrete metropolis, with buildings reaching towards the sky like leaves turning to the sunlight. If I’m away from trees for too long, I get anxious. It’s a slow building frustration, imperceptible until I realize that my mindset is as grey as my surroundings. I need green – and I mean that in the least euphemistic sense.
I grew up in the suburbs, learning to cycle on the pavements of sprawling housing estates caught between city and farmlands. My first primary school had spiked steel fences around the playground, deterring us from fleeing. My second was in the countryside. One summer, cows escaped onto the school grounds. The farmer apologetically herded them up, while a few hundred small children watched as the improbability of their storybooks came alive. Green fields meant the possibility of magic.
Green spaces are considered a luxury in a climate where property developers place extortionate premiums upon land, farms are being destroyed by train-lines, and public parks are facing closures due to lack of funding. But parks, nature reserves, and wide open spaces are a human necessity, not a luxury.
I am happiest when walking amongst plants and trees in their full greenery. This might mean trekking between furs in the scottish highlands, or marching through the woods near my parents house. Or, adapting to current circumstances, it might mean cycling through Westerpark as the sun rises and the earth warms – my daily commute providing an antidote to stress about money, jobs, rent, and taxes. A green leaf springs open, one more life among the masses, and none of those things matter.
Amsterdam is a fairly green city – the ubiquity of bicycles means that its inhabitants get more exercise and time outdoors than most other city residents. The city seems to care about its foliage. There are planters of tulips dotted around the streets, trees line the canals, and the quantity of parks – there are over thirty in Amsterdam – seems fairly radical in an economy within which land is increasingly scarce and expensive.
Green spaces can not only reduce anxiety, but can reduce pollution – an effect that can be replicated on a smaller scale with indoor plants.
In 1989, NASA showed that houseplants are beneficial for your health: they can remove chemicals from the air, improving air quality and humidity. Houseplants are more common, cheaper, and of better quality in Amsterdam than I’ve ever found in England, and there seems to be something particularly Dutch about plant-filled window sills. The message seems to be: keep the windows clean and the plants aplenty. Greenery is gezelligheid.
But appreciating greenness is not just a Dutch (or British) trait: the Japanese concept of ‘forest bathing’ (Shinrin-yoku) was developed in the 1980s as a therapeutic form of healing through mindful immersion in nature. The term became popularized on social media last year, and spawned several books. But it’s not a new idea: the benefit of being outdoors – specifically, in the great, green outdoors – has been known and observed for centuries.
During the Renaissance, it was believed that green was the easiest color for the eye to behold, falling in the middle of the light spectrum, between white and black. But green was not only a color, it was a metaphor, a mentality – it reflected innocence and growth, as well as signalled hope. In the modern world, the primary association of the color is that green means go. Go get it. As Lorde sang in Green Light, the song I listened to while walking home after every one of my final exams, “I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it.” Green is optimism and yearning.
Today, as Extinction Rebellion protests disrupt central London, the environmental associations of the color are more relevant. Green and blue, earth and sky – our planet is host to rainbows, but its greenness needs protecting. So go outside, have a walk in the park, and relish the bounty of green in our city. But remember that while greenery is necessary, and in Amsterdam relatively plenteous, it is also vulnerable.
Preserving the greenness of the world is not only ecologically important for our own communities, but selfishly, green is vital for our sense of selves.
Rebecca Took is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
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