There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night and spring after winter.Rachel Carson
There is an old Chinese proverb that says the three greatest physicians in life are nature, time and patience. I think it is interesting that nature is listed first. It seems that the healing power of nature has long been recognised by traditional cultures and yet it is something that the modern world is only really coming to appreciate now. The Covid 19 pandemic has particularly highlighted that while staying home and social distancing helps to prevent the spread of disease, the downside is that isolation and reduced exposure to the outdoor environment can have a serious negative impact on our mental health.
The link between nature and our health and well-being is quite well documented now. People who live in areas that have open and green spaces are more likely to have reduced levels of stress and depression, a lower risk of cancer and demonstrate a slower cognitive decline as they age. Access to surrounding green space is especially important for the healthy development of children, not just in providing opportunities for physical activity, but also in reducing the likelihood of mental health issues later in life. And an interesting study in Tasmania discovered that patients recover more quickly in hospital if they have a view of nature outside their window. It makes you wonder about hospitals in the CBD surrounded by lots of tall buildings.
While we know that green open spaces are good for our health, to what extent is that being taken into consideration in town planning? A recent article on The Conversation highlighted the issue of ensuring equal access to green spaces across our cities and particularly for those people who are more vulnerable to physical and mental health issues. Unfortunately access to green areas can vary depending on where people live. Suburbs in more affluent areas often have more green space than poorer areas. And green spaces are not always accessible to people with mobility issues. Some places might offer excellent health programmes in public green spaces but the people who might really need them, may be unable to access them on a regular basis. As little as two hours a week in nature can have a significant health benefit but it is important that everyone can have ready access, no matter what their circumstances or where they live.
Creating a Healthy Living Environment
The importance of green spaces is being highlighted this week with the celebration of Parks Week. It is held every year in March to draw attention to the important role that parks and green spaces play in creating healthy living environments, especially in cities. Usually, when there is not a world wide pandemic, activities would be held in parks across Australia to help people discover their local parks and experience the benefits of a little time in the outdoors. You might like to check your local council or the Parks Week website to see if there are any events being held in your local area.
In Toowoomba we are very blessed with the number of parks and open spaces available to residents. Toowoomba is not called The Garden City for nothing. Across the city we have 566 open spaces! We have parks with playgrounds, parks with water features and parks with free exercise equipment, as well as parks that are dog-friendly. Some of our most popular and well-known parks include Laurel Bank Park, Picnic Point, the Japanese Gardens and Queens Park.
Queens Park was established in the late nineteenth century, during the reign of Queen Victoria. Public parks were becoming quite popular during this time, not just as locations for beautiful gardens and recreation, but also out of concern for public health. This was the time of typhoid outbreaks and other contagious diseases and natural settings like parks and gardens, as well as the seaside, were seen as places to restore health to the mind and body. As a tribute to the Queen, the colonial government would grant parcels of land to become a ‘Queens’ park, hence the name.
While the gardens of Queens Park look stunning today, especially during the Carnival of Flowers, when the site was selected in 1871 it was in very poor condition. The area had been used to graze horses and cattle and it was pitted with deep holes made by brick makers looking for clay. It had also been used as a site for garbage disposal, including “night soil.” No wonder the flowers grow so well!
By 1875 the botanic gardens had been established. These gardens were quite important for botanical research and often worked in conjunction with the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. The gardens were first opened to the public in 1885 and by 1888 an extensive tree planting and garden program had been developed. Over the years a number of features have come and gone from Queens Park, including swimming baths, a kiosk and even a zoo. During the 1940s a playground was added for the children and at different times the gardens have been redeveloped and upgraded as garden design has evolved over the years. More than a century later, Queens Park remains a popular place for Toowoomba residents and tourists to wander round the gardens, have a picnic and restore mind, body and spirit.