This is an odd time for the world. For the first time in a century we are faced with a novel virus that we don’t yet know all that is involved with keeping it at bay and keeping ourselves safe. Many nations are asking or demanding their citizens maintain “social distance” and/or quarantine themselves in their homes.
A friend pointed out an important distinction – we should be calling this “physical distance” not social distance, as this is a time when we need social cohesion and support more than ever.
And what a glorious age that we live in that we can still do this?
My kids can still call grandma on video calls, even though she is 1000’s of miles away. I can write an email or send pictures to my friends in a nanosecond.
I live in King County, one of the epicenters of the outbreak in the US, and immediately after schools closed parents created a Facebook group dedicated to supporting each other, sharing online resources for videos, workbooks, and fun online activities for kids to do while they were out of school. I’ll post a few of my favorites below.
Music and science groups also started offering their materials live, including free concerts and events. Authors have started offering “virtual” book signings and draw-alongs for kids and adults alike.
There are numerous organizations offering free resources – classes, books, videos – and even free Live events that will encourage our Netflix-enabled on-demand culture to schedule some time to tune in and all watch the same experience at the same time. The magic of the early Television age will be renewed as we will all be able to experience a concert together in real time, granted on channels like Facebook Live and Instagram, Zoom, and other channels.
Italy is demonstrating this social cohesion better than any nation currently. They have had impromptu sing-alongs, flash mob concerts, and just plain rebellious screaming from the balconies of their apartments in Naples, Rome, Sicily, and Florence.
We do not need to feel alone or isolated.
We can create solidarity among our neighbors with symbols, music, and messages.
My kids and I are going to spend the afternoon creating art and then decorating our front yard with art, just to remind everyone we are here, we are alive and well, and we are a community.
There are NUMEROUS opportunities for online learning, these are primarily Resources for online book readings, live events, and other free media that help support social cohesion and reducing feelings of isolation (although if you need those resources, here are just a few):
Know a spot in your community that could use a little love?
The application period for the2020 AARP Community Challenge is open!
The AARP Community Challenge provides small grants to fund “quick-action” projects that can help communities become more livable for people of all ages. Applications are being accepted for projects to improve housing, transportation, public space, technology (“smart cities”), civic engagement and more.
In an era when Americans, especially older Americans, are lonelier than ever in history, it’s great to see the AARP creating funding opportunities for organizations to create third spaces of all kinds.
AARP will prioritize projects that aim to achieve the following outcomes:
Increasing civic engagement with innovative and tangible projects that bring residents and local leaders together to address challenges and facilitate a greater sense of community inclusion and diversity. (Although this category is targeted to local governments, nonprofit organizations can apply for and receive a grant in this category provided they demonstrate that they are working with local governments to solicit and include residents’ insights about the project or to help solve a pressing challenge.)
Create vibrant public places that improve open spaces, parks and access to other amenities.
Deliver a range of transportation and mobility options that increase connectivity, walkability, bikeability, wayfinding, access to transportation options and roadway improvements.
Support the availability of a range of housing that increases accessible and affordable housing options.
Demonstrate the tangible value of “Smart Cities” with programs that engage residents in accessing, understanding and using data, and participating in decision-making to increase the quality of life for all.
Other community improvements: In addition to the five areas of focus, AARP wants to hear about local needs and new, innovative ideas for addressing them.
Hat tip to The Dirt for sharing this out, including a feature about last year’s winner:
In Los Angeles’ Westlake/MacArthur Park neighborhood, Golden Age Park shows the power of placemaking. With support from AARP, a property that was vacant for 30 years was transformed by landscape architect Daví de la Cruz into a community garden with a children’s play area and outdoor fitness space for adults.
People often talk about the feeling that a natural space evokes for them – feeling calmed by a sunset, wowed by a thunder storm, awed by being on a mountain top. Even more so, we often describe feeling close to God or something bigger than themselves when we are out in nature. Whether we are hiking or sitting still, these natural places are often described as “holy”, “sacred”, and provide a deep connection and meaning to the people who experience them.
Elizabeth Boults, ASLA, a landscape architect and educator, recently presented on this idea at the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego, CA. She discussed how rather than relying on big data trends to inform landscape design or even public initiatives, it is valuable to understand the spiritual feelings or significance that a place has.
With her husband Chip Sullivan, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, who is a passionate proponent for honoring and designing with the unseen forces that shape landscapes, Boults outlined how one method that sounds a bit wacky at first — tarot cards — can actually be a thoughtful design tool for understanding the genus loci (spirit of place), which is so central to landscape architecture.
Boults believes that landscape architecture is a mix of art and science. Art relates to the “mysterious, non-linear, subjective” process of design, while science is about “rational structures, categories, and typologies.”
Beyond art and science though, there is also the spiritual aspect of landscapes. “Across cultures, people shape landscapes based on their beliefs.” Many cultures have had “gods and goddesses who are guardians of the spirit of places.” For example, Romans believed each home had a genius, which were honored through a shrine.
Prehistoric peoples were attuned to the “atmosphere, the flora, animal life, and geological formations; they listened to the trees, wind, and moon.” Boults wondered: “Are we still listening today?”
Some stubborn ancient beliefs are still alive and well in modern practices such as Feng Shui in China, Vastu Shastra in India, and landscape cosmologies among Native people and across many cultures. Within these cultural approaches to the landscape, it’s always important to “consult the genus loci of a place before starting a design process.”
The new Jewel Changi airport features a 6-acre indoor forest, walking trails, and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. This restorative mecca filled with 2,500 trees and 100,000 shrubs not only revitalizes weary international travelers but is also open to the public.
This includes an inside bamboo forest, canopy-level train system, and an incredible water feature that also recycles rain water.
Jewel Changi provides that nearby natural respite with a 5-story-tall forest encased in a 144,000-square-foot steel and glass donut structure. During rain storms, water pours through an oculus in the roof — creating the 130-foot-tall Rain Vortex, a mesmerizing waterfall sculpture that can accommodate up to 10,000 gallons per minute at peak flow. Stormwater is then recycled throughout the building.
With Jewel Changi, Singapore has reinvented what an airport can be, just as they re-imagined what a hospital can be with Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, which is not only a medical facility but also a green hub open to the community. Now let’s hope Singapore’s biophilic design culture spreads around the world. International airports are in fierce competition for passengers and regularly one-up each other with new wow-factor amenities, shops, and restaurants.
I realize that Singapore has a lot more support, both culturally and financially, than other places in the world to implement this kind of space. However, hopefully the value from a cultural, health, and tourism dollar standpoint will make it worth it for other countries to invest in adding even small elements of this to their public spaces like hospitals, airports, and other spaces.
I wanted to share this great article from IDEO alum and design Ingrid Fetell Lee about the importance of having a joyful work environment, and what you as an individual can do about it!
She starts with all the important reasons why joyful work spaces are needed:
…Research shows that feeling joy at work not only increases our wellbeing, but also our performance across the spectrum. Joy increases our working memory and cognitive flexibility, which in turn leads to better problem-solving. Take doctors, for example: Those who have been primed to feel joyful make a correct diagnosis earlier than those in a neutral mindset. Joyful businesspeople consider a wider range of scenarios and make more accurate decisions. Joyful negotiators are more likely to achieve win-win agreements. And it turns out it’s infectious: Joyful leaders spread positivity to their teams, increasing rates of effort and cooperation; and when salespeople exhibit joy, customers respond by spending more time in a store, giving higher satisfaction ratings, and expressing a greater likelihood to return.
Full disclosure, right after reading this I did an audit of my desk at work and found I had already implemented a couple of these, including based on the same research she cites, but I missed a couple I am definitely going to add! 🙂
There has been a lot of focus recently about designing and updating cities through technology, rethinking old infrastructures, and so on. IDEO put out some of its own ideas, and the one that stuck out for me the most (no surprise), was Nazlican Gosku’s take on the value of play in a city’s ecosystem:
Play! In the last year, I have started chasing and capturing playful moments in the streets— from graffiti, to a group of kids playing in the water from a broken pipe, to lovers dancing on a street corner. This journey of capturing playfulness in the streets made me more aware and even obsessed with the idea of how we can design the right conditions for playfulness in the city. Why playfulness? Because playing means engaging, engagement brings care. If we are more caring and careful about the streets of the cities we live in, we might build stronger connections for healthier communities. Being playful on the streets requires courage, builds trust, allows for discovery, create communities. Playfulness is fundamental to our social nature, so it’s a useful framework for thinking through how we can build stronger cities and communities.
Thank you Ms. Gosku! So much yes in this!
If we are playing with something, we are engaging and care about it, or will care about it more.
Humans use play as the framework for our social structures, both in hunter-gatherer groups and on the children’s playfield.
Play builds trust and community.
It therefore also develops “buy-in” from communities who are more willing to invest in their cities.
Play NEEDS to be part of community planning, whether it is a small community or a huge metropolis!
This is yet another great example of how adding some intentional green can go a long way in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression in urban areas. From the article:
“In many low-income communities, vacant and dilapidated spaces are “unavoidable conditions that residents encounter every day, making the very existence of these spaces a constant source of stress.” Furthermore, these neighborhoods with vacant lots, trash, and “lack of quality infrastructure such as sidewalks and parks, are associated with depression and are factors that that may explain the persistent prevalence of mental illness.”
Conversely, neighborhoods that feel cared for — that are well-maintained, free of trash and run-down lots, and offer access to green spaces — are associated with “improved mental health outcomes, including less depression, anxiety, and stress.””
Personally, I would love to see a study about the different effects and impacts of having community gardens or community involvement in the development of the green spaces vs. an independent team coming in to a space and cleaning it up. There is value in both approaches, for sure.
Before: An empty lot in Philadelphia / JAMA Open Network
After: A Green lot in Philadelphia / JAMA Open Network
A tree, some grass, a low wooden fence, regular maintenance. With these basic elements, an unloved, vacant lot can be transformed from being a visual blight and drain on a community into a powerful booster of mental health.
According to a new study by five doctors at the University of Pennsylvania, residents of low-income communities in Philadelphia who saw their vacant lots greened by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society experienced “significant decreases” in feelings of depression and worthlessness. And this positive change happened at a cost of just $1,500 per lot.
For lead author Dr. Eugenia South and her co-authors, this is a clear indication that the physical environment impacts our mental health. And planning and design offers a cost-effective way to fight mental illness in light of the sky-rocketing costs…
Happy New Year! You may be wondering “where has Beth been?” Well, I have been having a baby! My whole family is thrilled, and my older kids can’t wait to play with their new baby sister once she’s big enough. My posting here will still be a little sporadic over the next few weeks as we all get into the groove of new baby life, but I am also aiming for this new addition in my life to provide me inspiration and momentum to post more about play and human development.
As we start our own new adventures in 2018, several people may be thinking about new year’s goals and resolutions. I think any time of year is a good time to start something new, but sticking with a new habit or ritual has been proven to be quite hard for most folks.
While some goals need discipline and structure – quitting smoking, getting more organized – there are also many opportunities to “gamify” your challenges for yourself.
Rafe Kelley, founder and lead coach of Evolve Move Play (and co-creator of said new baby) presented a fantastic TEDx Talk last fall about this very topic. Listen to his take on how to integrate play into both mundane and daunting challenges:
Rafe’s talk was focused primarily towards a high school and college-aged audience, but the messages are valuable for people of all ages starting out on something new or holding themselves accountable to new goals.
In the talk, Rafe discusses how it is also important to build in rewards or fun elements into your bigger to-do list when working toward your goals.
As a great example of this, I happened to stumble upon this video of a bunch of traceurs challenging each other to do vertical back-flips. These grown men are challenging each other in a seemingly frivolous activity, but it in fact helps inform multiple aspects of their broader parkour training, and is therefore valuable from a fitness & training standpoint. It also encourages problem-solving and camaraderie/accountability, two things which are vital when trying to hold yourself to new habits or goals.
While very few of us will ever be able to do what these traceurs do, I want it to inspire people (me too!) that adding play to your training – whether you’re training for a marathon or starting a new business – is not a “distraction” it is essential to maintaining your motivation and drive.
Enjoy your new year’s resolutions! Mine are crafting more, writing more, and hiking more.
Introvert-extrovert labels have always intrigued me because I grew up in a house of introverts, where quietness was an essential part of the day. Yet we did plenty of things attributed to extroverts, like attending parties every week, having a house full of guests over the holidays, and going on road trips with other families and random friends of my parents.
There was always down time built into our days and nights. In high school, I assumed I was an extrovert because of all the tell-tale signs of things extroverts are supposed to enjoy based on the highly inaccurate and oversimplified checklist I used to self-diagnose. I enjoyed things extroverts are presumed to like that introverts supposedly don’t: playing sports, spending time with other human beings, going to crowded places like the mall, doing loud things like attending musical concerts and parties.
But at the same time, my personality seemed to be at odds with these things. There was always a caveat. I liked going to parties, but hated making small talk. I liked spending time with some people, but wanted my alone time. I liked martial arts, but hated having to perform in front of the class for promotions. I wrongly thought I must just not like these activities. I had neglected to take into account that introverts have a different approach to things like parties and learning sports than extroverts might.
Here are a list of five things I especially enjoy that are sometimes viewed as exclusive extrovert territory, yet can be very easily enjoyed by introverts without even much tweaking.
I grew up being enthralled by martial arts, primarily through Bruce Lee movies I watched as a kid. I’ve dabbled in kickboxing, kungfu, and recently capoeira, which all involve moving primarily by footwork: standing up, punching, or kicking. One of the things I really enjoy about this style is that you can have your alone time to just focus on repetitive movements, especially when using pads or heavy bags to practice.
Ground fighting styles like Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, on the other hand, seem like they’d be an introvert’s worst nightmare,because the assumption is you need outward extroversion to engage. There is no alone work, barring warm ups; you are constantly drilling techniques or “rolling” with another person from the moment you step on the mats. When Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu in Jersey City opened up a few blocks from us, I had no intention of signing up, but my adventurous seven-year-old ambivert daughter had other plans. I wasn’t surprised she took to it, although was a little surprised she wanted to sign up for the entire year and loves it so much she practically lives there. I was also surprised by the amount of time you’re in your own head in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Once you learn a technique, it’s all about strategizing with your partner in order to pull off the move. I’ve been training for six months, and it is pretty impressive how few moves I can pull off given the amount I train. My daughter, on the other hand, can run circles around me without even thinking about the steps required.
I fell in love with karaoke when I lived in China, where it is a very intimate affair with a few friends and private rooms. Karaoke in the United States, with big stages in rooms full of people, would terrify anyone not drunk. Or anyone who can’t sing (not that I have that issue, cough, cough). But there are plenty of areas in many cities that have genuine Asian style karaoke with small rooms and a handful of snacks to order from. My favorite joints in New York City are the ones that allow kids. My daughter loves randomly picking a song in a different language, while I stick to familiar classics that I can introduce her to: British punkrock from the 1970s. Don’t let Hollywood fool you into thinking this is extrovert territory. The best thing about it is that you’re supposed to be off-key, just like you’re not meant to be some classically trained singer when you’re jumping on the bed belting out lyrics to a song with your friends, or you’re in the car and your jam comes on. The best part is when you make mistakes and get out of tune or read the lyrics wrong!
Fact: dancing is fun. While I prefer dancing at home with my kids, sometimes I am required to leave the house for adult social gatherings. I have exactly four moves I use at Punjabi parties that I learned when I was 13 and are still going strong. But there are plenty of venues for introverts to stomp those feet. If Salsa night or Bhangra night at a dance club are not your thing, there are plenty of other options. Many gyms offer dance classes as a form of exercise, rather than just the study of the dance technique itself.
There are many forms of dance from all over the world you can learn at a dance studio, which used to be relegated only to professional dancers, that now even casual dancers can try out. In addition to classes like breakdancing, salsa, or ballet, in places with high numbers of immigrant populations, there are also some wonderful schools catering to the art from those communities, ranging from traditional Indian dances to African dances like the Soukoss rooted in the Congo. I’ve always wanted to learn traditional Indian dances like Bharat Natyam or Kathak, with incredible footwork, facial expressions, and intricate details. In many areas of New Jersey and New York with large Indian populations (especially South Indians) you can learn these forms at dance companies like Navatman. And many of these dance studios have their own themed nights emulating a dance club, except they’re with people you know and they end at a reasonable time, allowing you to get home at a reasonable hour and read that book!
Family and Friends Road Trip!
I find it sad when introverts buy into the notion they could never survive a road trip with other people, especially family and friends. Of course, if there are deep-seated feuds happening, introversion is going to be the least of your issues. I grew up all over the world, and every country we’d live in, there would always be roadtrips whenever there was a long weekend. In Nigeria, we’d visit waterfalls, in Dubai we’d go on camping trips on the beach or to see the dunes, and in the United States we went on a big fat extended family trip to visit three islands in Hawaii. It is definitely a challenge when extroverts don’t understand the need for introverts to be alone because it’s so ingrained in our culture that this is the behaviour of someone who is angry or sad or depressed, and it must be fixed immediately. So rather than putting ourselves in a situation where we have to justify ourselves, we carved it into the schedule. Chill time, however we decided to use that time, was not optional. Without it, it feels like you’ve been scheduled for five museum visits in one day!
I once made the mistake of going on a dumpling crawl with someone I knew from work when I used to work at a company selling knives door to door (it did not go well). I got the idea from somewhere (I turned out to be wrong) that they knew what they were doing. The idea of a crawl sounded like fun – walking around exploring a city while stopping frequently to sample dumplings. It turned out to be planned with a very extroverted sense of fun in mind. There were long walks filled with awkward small talk and way too much food ordered at each dumpling joint, which gave rise to even more small talk. If Shakespeare had gone on that dumpling crawl, I’m pretty certain he would have centered his tragedies on food crawls. I can’t think of very many things worse than not being able to enjoy your food and being inconvenienced by needing to find something to say, over and over again. The dumpling crawls I subsequently planned, with my kids first and later with a select group of adults, took into top priority the enjoyment of maximum dumplings without too much time-wasting conversation. This is not to say we can’t have fun conversations, but there were no long walks, and definitely no long draining commute times!
Leisure time activities are often pre-scripted as “introvert” and “extrovert” activities, as if extroverts can’t enjoy a quiet evening at home with a glass of wine and a book, or an introvert couldn’t possibly go dancing because of the loud music and people.
While extroverts can spend hours surrounded by people, going from one activity to another, without any people-break, and be totally sane afterwards, introverts like myself would end up eating somebody. Strategies are important. What are some of yours?
I read a fantastic article written by former U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy about the physical and cognitive damage brought on from isolation and loneliness, which many of us suffer, especially at work. We’re so focused on working, and for long hours, we often forget to stop and check in with each other and learn about each other *raises guilty hand*.
Murthy discusses this in his article in the Harvard Business Review, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” He shares some statistics and the impact this loneliness has on our individual work productivity and how that effects businesses’ bottom line.
Rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees — and half of CEOs — report feeling lonely in their roles…
During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness…
Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity…
At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making…
Researchers for Gallup found that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work, and less likely to fall sick or be injured…
He also offers a suggestion to combat this: setting up time at work for an “Inside Scoop” session, either as part of the weekly team meeting or other routine meeting.
People were asked to share something about themselves through pictures for five minutes during weekly staff meetings. Presenting was an opportunity for each of us to share more of who we were; listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen.
These sessions quickly became many people’s favorite time of the week, and they were more enthusiastic about participating at staff meetings. People felt more valued by the team after seeing their colleagues’ genuine reactions to their stories. Team members who had traditionally been quiet during discussions began speaking up. Many began taking on tasks outside their traditional roles. They appeared less stressed at work. And most of them told me how much more connected they felt to their colleagues and the mission they served.
This experience rings very true for me on my own team; during our team meetings, one of our senior managers on my team would always make sure there was time in the meeting for everyone to go around the room and share what their weekend plans were. People could say as much or as little as they wanted. But it gave us all a glimpse into their outside lives and helped us all feel closer. We learned about shared interests in music and art, got to hear about personal successes like their cover band scoring a gig or going to a sister’s wedding. We all became closer and would ask each other on the progress of our personal projects, and offer support or gentle teasing if we felt a project wasn’t getting the attention we all thought it deserved, whether it was finishing their degree or sewing a dog bed. It made us all closer and feel more connected.
As the team ebbed and flowed after awhile we stopped doing this practice, and although the change went unnoticed (until now), the change in team dynamics, camaraderie, and effectiveness has shifted.
It would be worth bringing it back.
In an age with more population density and a literally globally connected world thanks to the Internet, we are all experiencing more loneliness. The good news is we also have the power to combat it. It doesn’t have to be formal; as Murthy says:
I share what my office did not as the antidote to loneliness but as proof that small steps can make a difference. And because small actions like this one are vital to improving our health and the health of our economy.
There are other practices that can help combat loneliness too, like offering to help out others, and be willing to accept help when offered. Being proactive is hard, but worth it. And it doesn’t have to be big.
We can start simply by asking how somebody’s weekend was, and actually stopping and being present to listen.