Blue Space: How Water Features Improve Our Cities and Lives

Lake Artemesia, Prince George’s County, Maryland. Image courtesy of PG Parks.

What Is Blue Space?

Blue space refers to visible water features, in much the same way that green space refers to visible greenery. Both natural and man-made water features count as blue space. Examples of blue space, therefore, include the sea, rivers and streams, lakes, ponds, waterfalls, pools, and more.

Why Is Blue Space Important?

Blue space, even when man-made, is a healthy dose of nature. Whether we’re looking at water or interacting with it through swimming or water sports, we receive many benefits for our physical and mental health. Take a moment to watch ocean waves, and you’ll intuitively understand. Blue spaces have a calming effect on our mental state, and can influence beneficial health outcomes such as:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Increased life satisfaction
  • Healthy weight maintenance
  • Improved mental well-being

Blue spaces also foster a greater sense of connection—to nature and the world around us, and to the people we socialize with. Blue space recreation is a great way to connect with loved ones, acquaintances, or even strangers. Go tubing down a river or kayak with a group, and the chances are high that you’ll end up with some new friends, or at least that you’ll have enjoyed some healthy socialization.

Water Features in Cities

With all of these benefits, it’s clear that blue spaces in cities can help elevate not only the scenic beauty of those places, but the health of the communities themselves. Blue space benefits also explain why coastal cities and port cities often have a very special sense of place, character, and community. Views of the ocean and opportunities to interact with it have been shown to positively impact health in a variety of ways.

Olympia, Washington

A study of blue space usage in the UK found that:

  • Living near the coast can have particular health benefits and is associated with more frequent use of the water, and more physical activity.
  • Proximity to the coast provides more opportunity for restorative experiences and reducing the amount of ‘noise’ in people’s minds—more so than exposure to green spaces.

Even in inland areas, blue spaces provide a host of benefits. This is why the importance of rivers is not limited to their ecological impact alone; along with defining a town’s visual character, river views and recreation can improve health outcomes for residents. Similarly, lake towns experience benefits from their blue space as well.

Even man-made water features can help! Creating features like canals—and making them accessible (or at least visible) to the public—is a common way to add more blue space to urban, suburban, or rural areas.

Here at Scenic America, we value our country’s scenic beauty—blue space, green space, and all—and want to see it persist. We work to preserve and promote our scenic byways, landscapes, and towns that define our nation’s visual character. Read about our principles of conservation, see what we’ve accomplished in 2021, or sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on our work and how you can help.

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