Urban sprawl happens when concrete overtakes the prairies and skyscrapers become the trees.  Monuments replace nature.  Spirit is overridden by fantasy — and we’re all the worse for the loss of the natural progression of nature around us.

Now we have evidence that trees heal us more than hospitals:

Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

“The mind is a limited machine,” says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. “And we’re beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations.”

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

This research arrives just as humans cross an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of people reside in cities. For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we’re crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers. In recent years, it’s become clear that such unnatural surroundings have important implications for our mental and physical health, and can powerfully alter how we think.

Why does it take a scientific study to teach us how important the aesthetic of a tree is to the well being our inner core?

Man-made geometry is lost on us, while the puzzle of the forest frightens us and drawn us inside.

We are more dirt than sidewalk; we are more sky than lightbulb; we are more tent than house.


  1. So many things that seem patently obvious – eating too much makes you gain weight! – somehow get studies. I love sitting near a tree and taking in the view of a nice park. During the spring and summer on Shabbos the Rabbi of Ohab Zedek gives a class at Riverside Park which is nice for both the surrounding area and great information.

  2. One great thing about Manhattan, Gordon, is the preservation of the parks. Central Park is a grand oasis in an urban desert. It would be so easy to sell off that land for big money and parcel it out to more concrete and steel — but there is a divine protection of the land and that makes NYC an extremely special and unique place.

  3. I think I feel suffocated in a big city because of less greenery…
    It just kills me from within.

  4. Me too, Katha! I’d rather live in a lesser part of town with grass and plants and trees than in the mid-city core of carbon and steel and concrete slabs.

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