anthropology · behavior · creativity · design · environment · happiness · play · work

Bring More Joy To Your Workspace, Yes You!

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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.

Read her full article for her easy-to-implement tips for bringing joy into your workspace.

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! 🙂



52 Ways to Ignite Your Creative Spark

As the long summer days start to shorten and the weather starts to cool, I have been focusing more on being mindful in everything I do and taking time for myself. Something that can seem so simple is in fact REALLY HARD for most folks.
The good news is taking 20 minutes, or even 5, is often enough to reset. For some people that means working out, doing yoga, meditating, or some physical practice. I’ve been trying to get physical for 30 minutes three times a week.
For some people, including me, it means using that time to get creative, or letting their creativity get sparked by others.
In the past I have also found journaling super helpful, and there are some great guides online and many different ways to do it.
A new product, A Few Minutes of Design, offers lots of great mini-creativity projects to keep that spark going all year!


A Few Minutes of Design / Princeton Architectural Press

The mission of the Creative Education Trust in London is to empower kids through creativity and design thinking. Partnering with Princeton Architectural Press, they created A Few Minutes of Design, which offers 52 activities to encourage inventiveness. This well-crafted little packet of fun may work just as well for inspiring creativity among children and young adults as it does for rekindling the spark of a semi-burnt-out designer confronting endless deadlines.

The trust believes “creativity is the ability to find connections between the things we know and to turn these connections into new ideas and action. The academic arts and the sciences, practical subjects and life skills all need creativity. Creativity is highly valued by employers. With knowledge, skills, and creativity, every young individual is equipped to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.”

To appeal to as broad…

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anthropology · architecture · behavior · community · design · environment · family · happiness · play · technology

How Play Can Modernize Cities

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!



Trolls Invade Morton Arboretum

What a fun, creative art installation in a public park. I also love that folks are allowed to (gently) play with the trolls, as so often public art and sculptures are not meant to be played with.


Rocky Bardur trolls dislikes cars / Thomas Dambo

Trolls live in caves, rocks, or mountains. They live long lives, are very strong, but are known to be slow and somewhat dim-witted. They aren’t fond of humans and have even been known to eat a few.

In Morton Arboretum in northern Illinois, six wooden trolls have taken over, thanks to the inventive Danish artist Thomas Dambo. Each is about 30-feet-tall, except for a reclining one that is 60-feet long, and made of recycled wood. These installations are part of Troll Hunt, an inspired exhibition that will take families on nature walks in search of these dangerous creatures.

Troll snack / Thomas Dambo

Troll snack / Thomas Dambo

Visitors can take a hike along a 6-7 mile route through the 1,700-acre arboretum to find all six trolls, drive or bike to them, or take a “troll tram ride.” There’s a…

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ASLA Launches New Guide to Transportation

People often focus so much on improving specific sites, but there has also been renewed interest on HOW we get there. And not just an Uber vs driving yourself.
There is also an expectation from some city planners that people should just start biking/walking/etc. w/o the supported infrastructure. Let me tell you buster; it ain’t gonna happen! So it’s good to see the ASLA start to address this need at least in principle.


ASLA 2009 Professional Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston, Texas. SWA Group / Tom Fox

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has launched a new guide to transportation, with in-depth sections on how to plan and design more sustainable regional, urban, neighborhood, and street transportation systems.

Transportation infrastructure is a significant part of the landscape. The original social network, it connects us to families and friends, jobs and businesses, education and recreation, and is a vital part of the public realm. However, conventional, car-centric approaches to transportation have contributed to negative outcomes for people and the environment:

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behavior · community · design · environment · happiness · health · mental health · play · Social

A Cost-Effective Way to Treat Depression: Greening Vacant Lots

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…

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New Study: Technology Undermines the Restorative Benefits of Nature

Fascinating finding of outdoor time vs. unplugged time


Laptop user in a park / istockphoto

We experience “soft fascination” with nature when we sit on a park bench and let our mind wander, taking in the trees and flowers, noticing birds and squirrels, feeling the breeze. This gentle decompression in nature is actually critical to helping us restore our ability to pay attention. We need breaks where our minds can just go slack and subconsciously take in the complexity of the natural world. Researchers are still trying to figure out the ideal “dose” of this green medicine, but benefits have been seen with just 10 minutes.

New research argues those breaks in nature only help if we put down our laptops and other devices. A recent study published in Environment and Behavior contends that using laptops, smartphones, and other technologies while sitting on that park bench undoes all the good attention-boosting benefits of nature.

Attention is…

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REBLOG The problem with turning urban challenges into games

Tech companies like gamifying civic problems—but they often reward the wrong things

By Alissa Walker@awalkerinLA Originally published: Jul 20, 2018 on Curbed

Very nice editorial by Alissa Walker about the dangers of gamification and making sure you’re rewarding the right stuff, whether it’s for urban design, medicine, or school.

She also offers some possible solutions that tech developers could put into practice.

I agree with her in that I think technology companies that are dealing with public data – mapping, restaurant hours, parks and beaches – have at least some responsibility to optimize those spaces rather than optimize for themselves and their company’s goals and bottom line. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, there are ways that all parties can win.

Read Alissa’s full article


Unstructured play is hard! (But necessary)


Summer is in full swing. Warm days, long nights, outdoor time, water play, and a lot of free time. As a kid I remember it as heavenly. But now as a parent I am witnessing a sibling civil war. My two relatively agreeable kids are ready to kill each other. And so is every sibling pair, according to every mom I have talked to. Including my own: “Oh yeah, your sister really tried to beat you up in the summer.” (For the record this was my little sister four years my junior. I was fine).
The reason for all of this melee mayhem?
Unstructured play time!
There are no parents or teachers filling the kids time or monitoring their behavior every second. No or fewer distractions from school or sports.
Instead, kids are stuck at home all day with their life-long roommate who won’t get out of their space and is playing with the simultaneously most annoying and most wonderful ever!!!
And you know what? That’s a good thing. Kids NEED this kind of stress and conflict resolution practice. Especially in a safe place like home, and a safe playmate like their siblings, who will also give it to them straight if they’re being obnoxious.
Play experts talk all the time about how kids are constantly negotiating the rules of a game during playtime – trying to keep it fair but also maybe get an advantage. It is crucial development for kids to learn these skills to be good at work, school, relationships, life. But it is hard and frustrating and painful sometimes to do. And as a parent it can be excruciatingly painful to watch.
So, now that I know I am not alone, that this is totally normal development kid stuff, I have resolved to excuse myself from the room, grab myself a second cup of coffee, and try desperately to not get too annoyed myself while I listen in on their fighting matches and step in only to tell them when they need to take it outside or one of them starts fighting dirty. I am still the adult, and I need to make sure they stay safe. But at least now I know that letting them hash it out for themselves is good for them.
If perhaps a bit loud!

Me · play

Getting back into the (blogging) game

person wearing black nike low tops sneakers playing soccer
Photo by Markus Spiske on

You know that feeling when you pick up an old sport? An old instrument? Hesitant, new but familiar. Visceral muscle memory of the ball on your foot, or the paintbrush in your hand. You are surprised at how much you remember and yet curse yourself for how much you’ve forgotten. You remember how hard it was and time-consuming, but also how rewarding and fulfilling.

It’s been awhile.

A lot has been going on.

I had a (third) child in December.


I traveled a bit, mostly to show off said child.

I went back to work in June.

So I’ve been busy. But I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things.

To share stories about child-friendly, adult-friendly, play-friendly spaces. How to make spaces enjoyable for everyone, or at least make sure that everyone has a space. Public spaces and private spaces.

But I’m still a little rusty. And still working and parenting and other things. Not as much time for research. Not as much time for ethnographic endeavors and events (I had to skip the EPIC conference this year in Hawaii, I’m so bummed!).

So I may not be quite as consistent as I was, but I’m still here, practicing, kicking the ball around.

Hope to see you out on the field.