The Grace of Blue Spaces in Urban Life
Gasping for relief in the bleakness of the concrete jungle? You may be a fish out of water in a sea of grey. The hustle and bustle are energizing at times but can also deplete your spiritual stores of inner zen.
We all understand and appreciate the power of greenery within a city. But blue, ah blue. It’s rather rarer and quite special in a way, seeing a flash of water behind a wall of city blocks. The benefit of green spaces in built-up areas, specifically urban centres, is well documented. However we should open our minds and consider the deep importance of blue spaces, within our urban centres. The well of human resource and creativity runs dry without a refreshing sight of water here and there.
No matter how fast-paced your get up and go, everyone needs rest and a peaceful view between bursts of activity. For everything we love about urban life, and there are a lot of reasons why, we are also always aware of the fact that urban life puts residents at greater risk for social isolation, higher levels of anxiety, and stress-related issues. We must not forget the nourishment and nurturance of our natural selves.
We know green spaces help: when people are able to build links and connections with the natural world, regardless of how built-up the area in which they live, there are clear and visible benefits to both people and the city itself. This has always meant promoting the importance of green spaces: more trees, green nooks and niches, botanical gardens and plants, more open, outdoor spaces. There is a growing need for the introduction of all kinds of natural spaces into cities, not just green spaces. Blue spaces, watery interludes in a brick and cement landscape, also play an important role in promoting healthier city lives.
What is a blue space?
A blue space refers to what is most often a natural body of water. It can be the ocean, a lake, a river or a narrow brook in a small park. Fountains, artificial ponds, and even swimming pools have nearly the same calming and restorative impact on people as natural blue spaces do. Think of a David Hockney painting of a clean, empty swimming pool: energized yet blissful. The sound, the smell, the feel of water: they restore us to ourselves. They restore the balance of life.
According to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, water is an incredibly important element in achieving balance and stability within your environment, on a large or small scale. Incorporating running water within a city is believed to bring this balance, as well as prosperity and good fortune. So as well as tossing a coin into the fountain for luck, the water itself is a symbol and mental focus of good vibes and positive energy.
According to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, water is an incredibly important element in achieving stability and balance. Image by Izzy Gibson.
The benefits of a blue space?
When we have any kind of access to blue spaces, either somewhere to visit, or somewhere where we can simply enjoy the view of water, it absolutely helps us. These spaces in time and breaks in our rushed pace keep us exponentially calmer. They reduce anxiety levels; they help us feel more connected with the natural world; they encourage us to increase our physical exercise levels. They are indubitably good for us.
How do we develop blue spaces within a city?
This is easier for some cities than others. Coastal cities are already fully aware of the benefits of blue spaces for their residents and visitors alike- who doesn’t love a beach city? But for landlocked cities, or incredibly densely populated cities, this can be more of a challenge to develop.
Coastal cities, such as Dubai, are already fully aware of the benefits of blue spaces. Image by Roman Logov.
For some cities it means a commitment to reclaiming the natural blue spaces they have always had but have neglected over the years. Birmingham, for example, has miles and miles of canals, but over the years access to them has been blocked by development and neglect. Restoring safe public access to the canals, whether through walkways, or the development of outdoor seating and eating spaces along them, can be an innovative, creative, and effective way for cities to connect their residents with blue spaces again.
For other cities it means developing blue spaces within existing green spaces: adding lakes or ponds to parks, for example. They don’t look as artificial as you’d think, actually, if you’ve been near one. They can be delightful. And they can be carefully planned to include naturally occurring flora and fauna of the area. Or these spaces can be focused on providing more leisure facilities that incorporate water, including swimming pools.
When it comes to improving city life, sometimes it takes a creative approach to development and planning that fully appreciates what benefits urban residents the most. Developing blue spaces, and integrating more between the natural world and the urban, is one important step to take in order to achieve cities that bridge the urban and natural world, for the benefit of all its residents.