community · design · play · Social

PARK(ing) Day Showcases the Power of Public Space

I missed this year’s event in my city, so bummed! Seattle usually puts on quite the event!

THE DIRT

On Friday, September 21, landscape architects and designers around the world participated in the 14th annual PARK(ing) Day to demonstrate the power of public space. PARK(ing) Day helps the public see the difference a designed space, even one as small as a metered parking spot, can make in their community.

The Landscape Architecture Bureau (LAB) in Washington, D.C. gave passersby an opportunity to simply relax and read on a Friday afternoon.

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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.

THE DIRT

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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behavior · children · cognition · education · emotion · mental health · play · Social

How Playing Superheroes Can Stop Bullying

red robot hero pose at windowEspecially with the increased output of Hollywood superhero movies these days, it can be easy to think of them as nothing more than shallow entertainment. However, the powerful storytelling and archetype of the superhero is something that appeals to many of us on a deeper level; it teaches us about standing up for those in need. My husband and I used this archetype recently with our own kids.

My elder son and daughter attend the same preschool, and unfortunately there was an increase in bullying behavior recently. This is developmentally typical for this age, and it also provides a good opportunity for learning how to deal with bullies in the “real world.” Kids have to learn how to respond to mean or bullying behavior, just like they need to learn how to say no when a friend wants to play house or play fight and they don’t (and don’t get me started on how adults need to learn the difference between bullying and roughhousing! That is for a later post). Kids who are not the target of bullying also need to learn how to respond when they see it. Often they will ignore it so as not to become a target themselves, or they will join in. It does not mean they are malicious kids, they are simply trying out behaviors they see.

But we asked our kids to go a step further, and not just ignore but try to help.

When we heard this was going on, we sat down with them and talked with them about why the behavior wasn’t okay, were they targets, were they participating, and did they feel safe. Then my husband told them, “You are both very strong, and I want you to try something; I want you to stand up to anyone you see picking on a kid in your class who may not feel strong, who is getting bullied. I want you to support them, even if they are not your best friend. Can you do that?”

My daughter nodded her head in understanding, but my son, who is only 3, wasn’t exactly sure what Dad meant. My husband tried to explain it again, but started getting more complicated in his wording, and I could see Keir’s eyes start to glaze over in confusion. But I realized my husband was describing something very familiar to our son.

“We want you to be a superhero,” I interjected. My son loves superheroes (and bad guys like Darth Vader, but it’s hard to have one without the other). His eyes lit up. My husband immediately caught on to where I was going.

“That’s right. Superheroes stand up to bad guys and bullies and protect their friends, even people who are not their friends,” he explained. “Even if nobody else is, in fact because nobody else is, they stand up for those who need help. Can you be like a superhero?”

green lantern duckie hero toyMy son seemed frankly a little shocked by the idea that HE, a little guy, could be a superhero in real life. But he also seemed willing to give it a try.

By reading stories and playing superhero (and bad guys), both my kids understood what it meant to stand up to bullying and supporting and defending your friends without even really “knowing” it . The hero archetype is a valuable one; through reading about it and playing one we learn to be brave for ourselves and others, and that sometimes we fight the battles nobody else wants to.

The next morning, I helped my kids bundle up against the cold morning, saying, “all right, let’s get our superhero outfits on.” As they trundled out the door to school with their dad, I called out, “good luck, little superheroes!” At pick-up that day, I asked the usual questions – what did you work on? Who did you sit with at lunch?

My daughter answered, “I asked [kid often being bullied] to play with me, and [kid who often bullies] to sit with me at lunch.”

I think she’s embodied being a compassionate superhero better than I have. But then, she and her brother play/practice being superheroes a lot.

 

 

behavior · community · happiness · health · mental health · psychology · Social

Practice the “Inside Scoop” to Combat Loneliness at Work

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*.

loneliness_working_from_home

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.

For example:

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.

 

architecture · community · creativity · culture · design · environment · play · Social

Today is Park(ing) Day in the U.S.

This year’s Park(ing) day snuck up on me! I am looking forward to checking out the little parklets that pop up around Seattle and see what other cities are up to.

Twister game set up in Seattle Parklet on Parking Day 2016
A Twister game set up in a Seattle parklet from Parking Day 2016. Courtesy SDOT.

From Curbed Seattle (no pun intended):

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… if you’re a fan of tiny, community-generated parks. PARKing day, which allows citizens to transform parking spots into activated spaces, is this Friday, September 15.

Past years have included creative seating, chicken coops, a bowling lane, and a tea party—even a ball pit.

This year, the day features 47 installations throughout the city. Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says different installations include “everything from arts and crafts to bike repair and snacks,” plus the perennial favorite—spots to sit and relax.

Seattle Department of Transportation has put together a map of all 47 locations, from Lake City to South Park. Unsurprisingly, there’s a dense belt around the center of the city in the downtown, Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Central Area region—including at least two bike repair stations.

A screenshot of the interactive Park(ing) Map for Seattle:

parking map seattle

Check out more about Seattle’s Parklets.

behavior · community · creativity · environment · happiness · health · play · Social

The 30-Day Tree Climbing Challenge is on!

I don’t normally promote my husband Rafe Kelley’s work with Evolve Move Play all that much, but this challenge is too good to pass up.

Starting on Arbor Day (but you can really start any time), Rafe is inviting people to climb a tree for 30 days, and tag their friends to climb three trees or donate to the Arbor Day Foundation, or plant a tree! Use the hashtag #treeclimb30 to tag your posts.

Rafe is doing this for many reasons, including…

  1. Promote outdoor physical play and movement,
  2. Foster a love of trees and the outdoors,
  3. Get people playing in their local communities,
  4. Remind people that it’s okay to climb trees, and
  5. To have fun!

This is an international push, bringing in participants from Europe as well, including certified Evolve Move Play (EMP) coach Ben Medder, based just outside of London (UK).

He is also trying to motivate participating with prizes, so stay tuned to his channels for more details:

So get out there, climb a tree (or plant a tree), tag a friend, and get moving!

health · learning · mental health · Social

How the cost of daycare and ineffective regulations are bad for businesses

Preface to anyone who has children in a corporate-owned daycare that could be encompassed in the below description: I in no way mean to critique you or your child-rearing decisions, I am criticizing the system that has built up around these behemoth corporations that are more interested in making money rather than caring for kids.

Kids play outside with a throwable computer
In Washington State, small in-home day-cares are getting pushed out of business.

The push for large corporate, academics-based daycare and preschools in the U.S. to monopolize the industry and childhood development practices has gone too far!

My daycare provider this month had to bump up her prices 150% due to new regulations passed by legislators that were pushed through by big daycare corporations; supported with the sole intention of driving smaller in-home daycares like my provider’s out of business.

This kind of “pay to play” legislation is not only unethical, this particular one is supporting a system of large, low-personalization, academics-driven style of daycare that is not only inappropriate for children but downright HARMFUL to their development. Eight-month-olds do not need to be studying the alphabet! They need to be playing blocks with their friends and learning colors and counting through unstructured play time, not forced circle time and flash cards!

It is better for children to have smaller groups of kids to play together, with regular, consistent caretakers that can provide personal touch and unstructured play time.

This kind of system is also a HUGE burden on working parents. This kind of price increase – $100’s of dollars in my daycare’s case – is unmanageable for so many working families, and the high prices of childcare means that it pushes hundreds of thousands of well-educated, highly motivated parents out of the workforce during their prime working years. In-home daycares are also more flexible on hours and more understanding if a parent is 5 minutes late with pick-up.

This is also incredibly anti-small business; my daycare provider is strongly considering retirement after this last batch of legislation and required price increases, not to mention potential loss of revenue due to parents pulling their kids out of her daycare because they can’t afford it. I can only imagine other daycare providers are struggling with the same dilemma.

I support paying higher prices for higher quality child care, but this price increase is purely due to new legislations, fees, and bureaucracy that can be absorbed by larger corporations but not smaller businesses. I support safety and regulations of childcare, but not to the point where businesses are required to feed children  only cow or soy milk (yes, that is a rule in Washington State).

If the government is really interested in creating a strong, resilient, competitive workforce, AND/OR is really interested in supporting small businesses, this is NOT the way to do it!

As soon as I figure out which congress person to write to I will do it and share it here! If there is specific regulations you are aware of that are impacting costs or food options, or even play time, please comment and post them below, so when we write our emails, postcards, or angry YouTube video rants we’ll know exactly which regulations to call out as unjust.

In the meantime, please give your daycare provider a hug, no matter who they are, and let them know we care.

architecture · behavior · play · Social · technology

“Pokémon Go” Is Quietly Helping People Fall In Love With Their Cities

I have been fascinated with the incredible popularity of Pokemon Go. Some people are seeing it as an “annoying” new game, but I see it as an amazingly powerful tool to trick people into exercising and getting outside, and as author Mark Wilson observes, discovering your city.

In our collective hunt for silly cartoon monsters, Pokémon Go players are discovering history and architecture left and right. Users described their discoveries over the weekend, from Korean pagodas, to a Donner Party memorial in California, to the urban landscape of Perth at night, all documented on Twitter.

Read the full article at: “Pokémon Go” Is Quietly Helping People Fall In Love With Their Cities | Co.Design | business + design

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behavior · community · creativity · emotion · happiness · language · Nature · play · Social · writing

Email-a-Tree Service Turns Into Love Letters to Melbourne’s Urban Trees

This is beautiful.

We humans love nature.

And now, the residents of Melbourne have found a way to express it.

The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

Officials assigned the trees ID numbers and email addresses in 2013 as part of a program designed to make it easier for citizens to report problems like dangerous branches. The “unintended but positive consequence,” as the chair of Melbourne’s Environment Portfolio, Councillor Arron Wood, put it to me in an email, was that people did more than just report issues. They also wrote directly to the trees, which have received thousands of messages—everything from banal greetings and questions about current events to love letters and existential dilemmas.

“The email interactions reveal the love Melburnians have for our trees,” Wood said. City officials shared several of the tree emails with me, but redacted the names of senders to respect their privacy.

Read more of the love letters via Email-a-Tree Service Doesn’t Go As Planned, But in the Best Possible Way – CityLab.

I bet this is something Seattle could really get behind, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or any city with multiple older trees.

Do you have a tree that you love or loved? Write your city about it, or on Twitter, or if you’re feeling shy you can share it here in the comments.

community · creativity · Social

Toybombing – Mountain Goat Kid Traversing the Urban Canyons

https://instagram.com/mbethkelley/
A little plastic goat views the valley below his window sill.

I took a couple of weeks off, but I am now getting back in to taking little toys out into the world and taking pictures of them in unique environments, creating little vignettes in the wild.

I’ve upped my game a bit and am going to start leaving them out for people to find. The tricky thing, and that adds to the fun, is there’s no way to control how long  these toys will stay put before people notice and decide they want to play with them themselves. This one was placed somewhere near Pioneer Square.

You can see some of my previous toy-bombings here and here. And of course my travel bunny buddy. Or just follow me on Instagram.

Another shot for scale
Another shot for scale