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The Indoor Generation: where doctors prescribe nature

Updated: Apr 21

"There is a certain loneliness in being tucked away indoors, behind those walls. All the comfort in the world, yet feeling completely alienated from life itself."

Those words played through my head one morning, as I was lying in bed, not feeling particularly happy. I asked ChatGPT to interpret those sentences, and the response was spot on:

The walls, though they offer shelter, seem to also confine the spirit. It's as if the world outside continues to pulsate with life, yet within these walls, time slows down, and the rhythms of existence become muted.

Surrounded by comforts, yet the heart aches for connection. The warmth of a human touch, the laughter shared with friends, the whispers of the wind outside the window — all seem distant, as if behind a thick veil. Even amidst the bustling city or the tranquil countryside, the isolation within these walls creates a barrier that transcends physical space.

Indoor lifestyles

As humans of the global North, we spend a whopping 90% of our times indoors! In our societies, the outdoors is mostly just a place to commute from A to B, or to use as a place for recreation. It's one of the challenging aspects that I experience, since being back in the Netherlands, after having spend 2,5 years mostly outdoors in lush nature.

Having an indoor-oriented lifestyle – due to the lack of (pristine) nature around; the weather; an office job, and just how our society is wired – I naturally long for daylight, especially during this long, grey and wet season. But lacking vitamine D is not the full story. I go outside as much as I can. Compared to most people, I'd say I spend at least 30-40 % of my time outdoors. Yet, this lingering feeling of disconnectedness and dulness (as opposed to aliveness) still frequently visits me. I figure for many of us, it has also to do with the amount of time we spend alone, on our screens, living very individualistic lives, not being part of a community, or something bigger than our own little lives. With all the comfort and technology at our finger tips, we – in theory – don't really need anyone. No wonder, the loneliness epidemic in modern societies is sky high.

I recently stumbled upon a blog by Simone, who decided to live fulltime in a tiny tent since november 2022. She moves from place to place on her bike, and I find her journey so inspiring! Even though that is a little too sober for me, I do get the underlying motives.

I feel at my best when I’m outside: alive, breathing in the fresh air, hearing the birds, feeling the wind on my face, feeling connected to life at large. When in nature, I lack nothing. I feel at peace. This strong connection to nature is however in stark contrast with how we constructed our lives. Most of us live in urban areas, do not own a garden, and are surrounded by noisy streets that lack green. I can't help but often feel as if our modern societies are profoundly "unnatural", by which I mean, that they are far removed from the conditions that would promote the well-being and fulfilment of human nature.

Concrete jungle and our well being

One of the aspects that seems highly underestimated for its impact on our well being, is the build environment. In my opinion, modern day architecture is rarely beautiful, inspirational, or pleasant to be around (exceptions aside). It literally feels like a concrete jungle: "a city or urban area which has a high density of large, unattractive, modern buildings and is perceived as an unpleasant living environment." The effect of the unimaginative architecture on our mood and wellbeing is unmistakable, yet post-war policy workers seem to only look at city planning from a functional perspective. There are some movements who counter this by taking an approach called Human Centered Urban Planning. (Side note: Isn't it funny that someone thought of such an approach? Like duh, what else should architecture be centred around?) Also organic, green architecture or nature inclusive living, are promising movements, that hopefully make their way to the mainstream. Below are some pictures for inspiration 😍.

Please send a message if you're the owner of the images.

How my direct environment shapes my mood and perspective on this city

In our societies, your socio-economic status defines largely how and where you live. Those with money can afford to live in spacious neighbourhoods with gardens, lots of green and beautiful architecture. I'm currently noticing what an impact the direct environment has on my mood! I used to live in quite an urban part of the Hague (although I'm aware many live in way more urbanised areas). My apartment was pleasant and light, but from my window, all I could see were brick houses. Leaving my house to the supermarkt, I was instantly in the hustle and bustle of the city, with lots of car noises and smells around. My 20 minute bike ride to work, was along a busy road, with mostly ugly buildings. And even though, the beach was a 15 minute bike ride away, my overall satisfaction and impression of the city was rather negative. How different it is now! I am lucky to experience living in one of the poshest neighbourhoods of Den Haag. It's a 5 minute bike ride to the beach, I have a huge garden, and it is so wonderfully quiet. The streets are clean and the houses are an absolute joy for the eye. On my current way to work, I pass something that looks like a castle, a huge park and the old pretty city center. I feel completely different here, and it's only a 15 minute bike ride away from my former house. Here, I could actually live happily and enjoy the city. The sad reality is that I can currently only afford it, because it's a temporary sublease where I take care of the cats.

Concrete gardens

Growing up in highly urbanised environments, with no idea where our goods and food comes from, many people clearly lost a connection to nature, our nature. And I'm saying this, without necessarily romanticising the past. It's just a plain fact, that our survival is at risk due to the way we treat our planet. Against this backdrop, there's a group of people who have the luxury to own a garden, yet decide to completely tile the only little piece of nature they own. Apparently they do not see a problem with the lack of nature around, and rather find it pleasantly "clean" and convenient to not be bothered by e.g. insects and the labour of maintaining a piece of land. This phenomenon is the pinnacle of disconnect, if you ask me 🤯.

Very inspirational gardens ;-)

Nature on prescription

In recent years, there has been a regained interest in the power of nature on our wellbeing. Doctors are increasingly prescribing nature to combat common modern diseases such as stress, anxiety and depression but also physical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and lung diseases. On the one hand this is a good development, but it also exemplifies the state of our modern societies and the urgency to increase nature in our living environments. In Schotland, it's already integrated into the health care system. Doctors prescribe nature not just to encourage movement, just being in nature, increases your level of happiness, creativity and resilience. Research shows, the time patients spend in bed recovering after surgery, and the amount of meds they need, decreases by 10%, if they overlook greenery!

So, the power of nature on our health and well being is unmistakable. What can we do as citizens to preserve the nature that is left, and contribute to greening our environments? I like the initiative "tiles out, greenery in" that support citizens with greening their streets. I did this in front of my previous home, but recently saw that the new tenants put tiles back in 🤷‍♀️.

Have you got any ideas or know of initiatives that support the greening of urban environments? Are there example cities that are particularly green, and/or perhaps take a green urban planning approach?


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