Nature, Urbanization, and Human Health

In Patchett’s Chapter 9 of Bel Canto, the hostages are for the first time allowed to breathe outside of the Vice President’s mansion since the start of the hostage situation. Hostage Ruben Iglesias is particularly overcome by nature’s beauty when he’s finally given the chance to experience fresh air and observe the gorgeous sites that the outside world offers. “…He would have his coffee outside in the morning,… come home to have lunch with his wife in the afternoons on a blanket beneath the trees,… and teach [his son] the names of birds.” Iglesias questions: “How had he come to live in such a beautiful place?” I thought for a bit before continuing reading the rest of the chapter. How do unnatural environments influence humanity through affecting physical/mental health?

Of course, urbanization plays a key role in separating us from nature. It’s a well known fact that urbanization is on the rise: cities are growing and millennials are moving into urban neighborhoods and away from where they were raised. What effects does this trend have on humanity? Well, based on my findings, focusing on humanity alone isn’t a great place to start – mostly because only a few studies have been conducted on humans in this field. It turns out that the concentrations of species of birds and ferns based on geographic location are actually helpful in predicting the biodiversity of humans. In fact, studies generally show that urbanization depresses biodiversity for a variety of species of animals, humans included (Turner).

In a study conducted by BioScience, four major, international cities are analyzed for bird and fern diversity. The study’s reasoning behind this is based on the correlation that “biodiversity peaks in areas that are inhabited” (Turner). As a note, the trend is only general because much of the data is actually conflicting within itself, although the correlation is still very strong. The “measured displacement of humans relative to nature” becomes of increased value when species nonnative to the cities are analyzed (Turner). In other words, biodiversity is considerably low when analyzing species within specific areas of cities, and these species are also more common in populated areas.

Since “most of the Earth’s urban human population lives in biological poverty,” poor ecological conditions will have a greater effect on a greater number of humans’ ecological health (Turner). “Human health, child development, and human appreciation of nature… may depend on finding and implementing solutions to the dissociation of urban humans from nature” (Turner). Although studies show that human well-being can benefit from “fairly simple natural systems, including individual trees,” urban humans are generally becoming disassociated with nature. And because urbanization as a whole is growing so rapidly, this trend in nature disassociation is growing as well. Turner includes research verifying that the appreciation of nature is one that is acquired, and that children who “play in wild environments” will appreciate such environments later in life (Turner).

Okay, so this confirms my question is valid: human health certainly can be impacted through exposure (or lack, thereof) to biodiversity and quality of ecological health. In a report written by the World Health Organization, “approximately 60% of the ecosystem ‘services’ examined, from regulation of air quality to purification of water, are being degraded or used unsustainably” (”Ecosystems and Human Well-Being”). Poor air and water quality certainly could lead to a poor state of human physical health, but what else?

Climate changes can “place stresses on agricultural production or the integrity of coral reefs and coastal fisheries,” which “can lead to malnutrition, stunted childhood growth, susceptibility to infectious diseases and other ailments” (”Ecosystems and Human Well-Being”). The report claims the disconnect between humans and the world’s natural ecosystem makes forgetting the impact humans have easy to forget, and this trend has increased quicker over the last 50 years (”Ecosystems and Human Well-Being”). In other words, humans’ losing touch with the environment has a significant negative impact on the natural world.

This is interesting; Turner claims the rate of urbanization has also increased over a similar timespan. Living in an urban environment where everything is obtained indirectly makes forgetting about the natural world easy. As humans lose touch with nature, they put it out of mind, adapt new lifestyles, and indirectly harm themselves by harming nature, albeit on a more physical level.

To conclude what I’ve learned form the research above, humans are losing touch with nature at a rate that is rapidly accelerating. Similarly, more humans are moving into urban lifestyles where they not only see very little of the natural world, but also experience it indirectly. Research shows that poor biodiversity can condition a disassociation from nature that leads to a lack of appreciation and even poor physical health. Those who have acquired an appreciation of the natural world, however, are able to feel reconnected even through simulations (seeing a tree or experiencing some aspect of nature). Our harming nature harms us on a physical level, and our further separating ourselves from it makes the problem only worse. Follow-up questions I’d like to research include: If people are becoming used to living in cities, does their disconnect from nature influence where they vacation (i.e. the beach, mountains, Grand Canyon, etc.)? And: What types of emotions do we experience when we connect with nature and how/why are those specific emotions triggered?

Works Cited

“Ecosystems and Human Well-Being.” Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. World Health Organization. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. <;.

Turner, Will. Global Urbanization and the Separation of Humans from Nature 54.6 (2004): 585-90. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. <;.


One thought on “Nature, Urbanization, and Human Health

  1. hcelemen says:

    Colin, I found this post very interesting because of how well it coincides with my thesis topic. The indigenous groups that I am studying depend greatly on the environment and the resources they can acquire from it. Nature is something I’ve neglected to explore in my thesis proposal; therefore, I’ve neglected an important factor that impacts the indigenous people’s standard of living. I believe that you have found at least one of the key factors to helping these indigenous groups, which is to take a step back from urbanization and bring back mankind’s awareness of nature and how we, as a species, greatly impacts the environment.

    I found your approach to this topic thought provoking and very helpful. I understand that there may be no end to urbanization because of how it continues to take us to further advancements than what we presently have. Nature is forced to adapt to the changes that mankind continues to impose on it. It is very interesting to learn about the perseverance some of nature’s simple creations, the birds and the fern, as they continue to thrive. In ways, they have learned to adapt to urban life and prove that they can survive in the most unexpected conditions. In relation to my thesis topic, I wonder if the effect of human dissociation from nature is the reason indigenous groups are reluctant to join the urbanized world. For how long will these groups stay safe in their rainforests and mountains until mankind decides to strip those lands as well for urbanization? Will they be forced to adapt in order to survive and in doing so, what will be lost?


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