Kick off your shoes; wiggle your toes in the green grass; reach for the fragrant loam beneath; take a deep breath, and feel good, feel safe. Parklands are a remedy for city-induced stress. A connection to nature via such green space “sanctuaries”, according to the World Health Organisation, can reduce health inequalities, improve wellbeing, and aid in treatment of mental illness.
“Some analysis suggests physical activity in a natural environment can help remedy mild depression and reduce physiological stress indicators,” the organisation says.
Brisbane clinical psychologist Dr Matt Worthington advocates that most of us need to get “earthed” when we can, and that our city parks are the ideal place to recharge and achieve a state of balance vital to good mental health.
And Brisbane is about to get one of its most impressive “recharging” stations to date. The 45ha transformation of the Victoria Park golf course in Brisbane’s inner north will be the largest green space built in the city in the past 50 years. As for size, the new Victoria Park eclipses the City Botanic Gardens (20ha). So, we’re talking big.
As to what will be in the space, Brisbane City Council last year gathered public suggestions and used them to form a draft vision which was released in January this year and is now open for public discussion.
Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner calls it a “rare opportunity to re-imagine a significant green space” in a prime inner-city location.
“So we need to get it right,” he says. “Victoria Park will have something for everyone, and we’ve incorporated ideas from the community such as more habitat for native wildlife, tranquil picnic spaces, a 5km running loop, a waterfront lake house, and an architectural treehouse with spectacular city views.”
Among the tranquil natural retreat will be Adventure Valley, featuring a high ropes course and mountain bike trails, a 1.4ha lake for kayaking, wetlands, art activations, an urban farm and more. The putt putt, driving range and venue spaces already in use will remain, with the additions only enhancing the ever-popular wedding location.
The new Victoria Park will not only be a drawcard for locals. Much like the hugely popular South Bank and Roma Street Parklands, the transformation of Victoria Park will enhance Brisbane’s appeal to interstate and overseas visitors, says Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff.
“Brisbane and South East Queensland is already renowned for its close proximity and easy access to nature,” he says.
“I think visitors from large Asian and North American cities, in particular, will find having such a large, free and easily accessible green community space so close to the city quite attractive. More so, the park will be a huge asset for the community and I have no doubt it will be filled with locals relaxing, socialising and exercising.” His sentiments are echoed by the Lord Mayor.
“As a city, we’re blessed to have nature on our doorstep,” Cr Schrinner says. “Victoria Park will only add to the ever-increasing experiences that win over visitors when they come here.
“It will strengthen Brisbane’s reputation as one of the world’s greenest, cleanest, most liveable cities, and a destination of choice for tourists and investors.”
The sheer size of Victoria Park will also help in the “recharging” process for both locals and tourists alike. It will offer a space where some of the city noise will be blocked; where numerous plants and trees can be established alongside existing vegetation; where a variety of wildlife can be nurtured; and where – when you lie on your back on the cushiony grass and look up – the city’s concrete, brick, glass and metal is replaced with green leaves and blue sky.
“There are good reasons why some of us enjoy parks, and digging our hands in the soil when we’re gardening; why some of us are just pulled to the land,” says Dr Worthington. “(Humankind) has a long history of connection with the earth. (In the past) it was a source of protection, nourishment and learning. We, over time, adapted to feel good, feel safe, in green areas.”
He speaks of the neurological benefits of green spaces, with nature encouraging the production of the hormones oxytocin, linked to connection and trust, and serotonin, which enhances mood.
Who knew keeping that world-famous Queensland smile and positive attitude was as simple as a walk in the park? Imagine what a day in Victoria Park could do.