Blue Space for All Beats a Wall

January 16, 2019

by Tom Vandel, HAP First Mate


God knows there’s a lot to be blue about these days. But it’s a fact my friend, blue space can drive away the blues.   

If anybody knows a good blues lick, here are some lyrics:  When blues get me down, I get down to the river, night or day, come what may, I get down to the river, down to the blue space, and let them blues flow away.  In Portland, we know the value of green space and we embrace it big time. But what about “blue space” – the value of water, in our case the river that runs through the heart of our city?

Only recently have studies been conducted on the health benefits to us humans of being near water – including rivers, lakes, and seas. Research suggests that blue space consistently shows signs it has a calming, positive effect on our wellbeing.

In the landmark book, “Blue Mind”, author Wallace Nichols says that humans are naturally drawn to water. It sets our minds and bodies at ease.  

“When we're near water,” Nichols says, "our brains switch into a different mode which can involve mind-wandering, creativity, and sleep, which are all known to be important to health, resilience, and productivity. Psychologists refer to water's changing uniformity as putting us in a state of 'soft fascination,' which can be highly restorative."

A team of researchers from New Zealand found that living in sight of water correlates with having lower levels of psychological stress, even when accounting for income levels. In addition to the psychological benefits, having access to blue space means you’re more likely to be physically active and more likely to meet and talk with others – socialization is good for us all.

Maybe we can all get along better if we spend more time near a river. Perhaps we should move Congress down to the banks of the Potomac. And instead of spending billions on a wall, spend some to bring humans closer to water.   

Others such as Jean Kim, professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, believe that our need to be around water is the manifestation of something far more primal. Kim states, "Life comes from water and needs water. We are fundamentally made of water."

I remember a cartoon I saw not long ago – about evolution. It showed a fish with little legs walking up on a beach. Another fish in the water says to the first fish:  “Don’t walk away from me when I’m talking to you!”

It seems over the last century or two, we’ve evolved away from blue space and more toward the blues. Let’s turn around and get back in the blue space, relax, and talk more. It’ll be better for everyone. Even the fish. Maybe even politicians.  

                                           Embrace your blue space.