If the City of Seattle desires to ensure a “healthy, vibrant city,” its Comprehensive Plan update, Seattle 2035, would benefit from reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments.
Reducing human impacts on the natural environment, as the plan states, is no longer the fundamental basis of comprehensive planning. This view perpetuates an increasingly obsolete framework where human and natural systems operate as distinct entities and where prosperity depends on lessened human damage to the natural environment.
It is time for a new perspective where humans act in, rather than on, the natural world. Planning for a prosperous future demands a framework where human and natural systems are integrated and function in ways that can be sustained over time.
Nature provides numerous social, physical, and economic benefits to urban communities. It is well known that properties in close proximity to or with views of natural spaces command higher prices. But urban nature does more than make city living comfortable and desirable. Contact with nature has demonstrated physical and psychological health benefits. Natural areas can increase physical activity, strengthen social capital, and may help reduce crime. Exercising in natural areas has greater mental health benefits than exercising indoors. Exposure to nature has been shown to improve physical recovery and reduce stress.
By acknowledging the health implications from contact with nature, our planning priorities can shift toward development where integrated built and natural environments are essential elements of healthy, sustainable communities.