Innovative indoor park shows health benefits of contact with nature

New and innovative ways of greening urban spaces to improve health and wellbeing are on show this week at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 at Sydney Olympic Park.

A unique pop up park in the exhibition dome is set to inspire and challenge the way people think about parks and how urban spaces can be used to provide contact with nature and improve our health and wellbeing.

The park – known as ‘Nature’s Cathedral’ - features spectacular suspended trees with exposed root systems, combined with the icon of urban development, scaffolding.

The 200m2 pop up park was designed by RMIT University’s Office of Urban Transformations Research (OUTR) and is an initiative of the Improving Health and Wellbeing: Healthy Parks Healthy People stream of the Congress, led by Parks Victoria and US National Park Service.

The competition to design the pop up park was run by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) and entries were of a very high standard. A jury of five experts from around Australia judged the entries.

“As part of educating people about the link between green space and human health and wellbeing, we wanted people to experience public green space as the life support of our cities. It will be an immersive space of wonder and celebration of the crucial role parks play in community health and wellbeing,” said James Grant, AILA NSW President.

Numerous studies have shown that contact with nature improves both physical and mental health – lowering heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension as well as alleviating anxiety, depression, irritability, headaches and more. With non-communicable diseases responsible for two-thirds of all deaths globally in 2011, and cardiovascular diseases the number one cause of death in Australia and globally, nature has a crucial role to play in encouraging people to get active, helping us to de-stress and enjoy some quiet time, especially for the 70 percent of Australians who live in urban areas.

“We invite the community to come along to the PlanetFest community event being held on Sunday 16 November at Cathy Freeman Park, Sydney Olympic Park and see the pop up park and experience how innovative use of green space can make a difference to their health in urban areas,” said Parks Victoria’s Chief Executive Dr Bill Jackson.

Design Landscapes is the construction partner for the project and built the pop up park inside the dome in the days before the Congress started. As a legacy of the Congress, elements of the pop up park will be relocated to other places in NSW as a permanent installation after the Congress is over.

In addition to the pop up park, the Improving Health and Wellbeing: Healthy Parks Healthy People stream has installed some innovative green elements in other spaces as part of the Congress. Plants and green street art that delegates can get involved in – designed by Junglefy – are greening conference spaces and improving productivity in these rooms.

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