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Rooftop garden

Ever green to boost longevity

Two years ago Milla Mihailova made a decision that she suspected would improve not only her life, but also that of those around her.

A keen environmentalist, the Kensington-based resident had already successfully introduced small vegetable gardens at her 45-unit strata complex.

But having learnt of a unique City of Melbourne urban forest grant to owners wanting to green private land, she set about convincing her neighbours to sign up to a radical plan to overhaul the complex’s concrete communal areas into sustainable green spaces.

Before securing the grant from the council, she first had to convince her fellow strata dwellers to part with nearly $100,000 of their own money as the grant was dependent on being matched dollar for dollar by residents.

Recognising they were on to a good thing, Mihailova’s neighbours got in behind the project and helped transform what was a static concrete jungle into an urban green oasis, courtesy of more than 1,500 new plants, 34 planter boxes and a large vertical garden that helps insulate adjoining apartments.

Clearly Mihailova recognised the fact that trees, plants and open spaces greatly improve the quality of life in busy cities – while contributing to resident well-being by improving air quality and giving us somewhere quiet to relax, or come together for recreation and socialising.

Yet now new research has found that being among green space may also boost longevity.

According to findings published in Lancet Planetary Healthy, city dwellers with access to leafy locales are likely to live longer than they would if they were surrounded by concrete.

Researchers identified green space by using satellite images to track how much vegetation was located within 500m of people’s homes.

Through their research, which involved 8,324,652 individuals from seven different countries, they discovered that access to trees, shrubs and grass meant a better lifespan. Specifically, they found that a 10 per cent increase in greenery led to about an average per cent drop in premature death.

Gardening as therapy?

It builds on previous research which shows green spaces in cities have a positive health effect, including less stress, improved mental health, and lower risks of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and premature death.

Commenting on the findings, healthy urban living expert Mark Nieuwenhuijsen – a professorial fellow at Australian Catholic University and director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at Barcelona Institute for Global Health – says the analysis shows the significant impact increasing green areas has on reducing death rates.

“Urban greening programs are the key to promoting public health, increasing biodiversity and mitigating the impacts of climate change, making our cities more sustainable and liveable.”

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