community · design · environment · happiness · health · Nature

Green Spaces In Cities Help Close “Well-Being Gaps” Between Rich And Poor | Co.Exist

It’s a morning of enriching spaces! I am so thrilled to see this work come out as part of the advocacy for green spaces for all!

Do Green Spaces In Cities Help Close "Well-Being Gaps" Between Rich And Poor? | Co.Exist | ideas + impact

Can neighborhood green spaces help close the gaps in health between people of different incomes and backgrounds?

That’s the tantalizing proposition of research by Rich Mitchell, a professor at the University of Glasgow, and colleagues. They suggest that green places are not only good for our health and well-being, but could also play an equalizing role in our cities.

Where you live can have a huge bearing on how healthy you’re likely to be. And, sometimes the gaps open up over just a few miles. A few subway stops in New York, for example, could mean up to nine years difference in how long someone might live.

Mitchell’s research, while still at a relatively early stage, suggests green-space might serve to reduce these gaps.

The research doesn’t prove the strength of the relationship between individual neighborhood services and well-being, but does show that well-being gaps are smaller where services are better, Mitchell notes in an email. Research he’s conducting now, which hasn’t been published, does show green spaces having the strongest bearing on well-being differences.

more via Do Green Spaces In Cities Help Close “Well-Being Gaps” Between Rich And Poor? | Co.Exist | ideas + impact.

children · environment · happiness · health · learning · mental health · Nature · neuroscience · play

IS PLAY THE KEY TO ECO-ACTION? : Children & Nature Network

Environmental Psychology and conservationists have, for awhile now, been advocating the importance of letting children get out and play in and with nature to educate them on the value of preserving their environment and benefiting from natural surroundings. It’s nice to see pediatricians also start to embrace and advocate for the need for everyone, including children, get outside and get dirty.

Dr. Lawrence Rosen writes that throughout his practice, seeing children on a daily basis, “I’m often reminded of Winslow Homer’s 1872 painting, “Snap the Whip,” depicting boys playing with abandon in a field outside their rural schoolhouse.”

So eloquently portrayed is the simplicity of another time, kids out in the natural world for no other purpose than to play, freely and without a care in the world.Contrast this with contemporary schoolyards with their meticulously designed jungle gyms and artificial surfacing, often empty throughout the day as more and more schools abolish recess or replace free play with highly structured, adult-supervised activities. I’ve realized, as I see increasingly anxious and depressed children come to my office looking for guidance, that the answers often lie not in my prescription pad but outside my window.

One very recent publication from Dr. Kirsten Beyer and associates at the Medical College of Wisconsin described the influence of green space on mental health outcomes, concluding that “higher levels of neighborhood green space were associated with significantly lower levels of symptomology for depression, anxiety and stress” and that “’greening’ could be a potential population mental health improvement strategy in the United States.”

read more from Dr. Rosen via IS HAPPINESS THE KEY TO ECO-ACTION? : The New Nature Movement.

autism · behavior · brain · children · learning · mental health · Nature · play · school

Outdoor Play Helps Improve Autistic Symptoms

Reposting this from a fantastic blog Free Range Kids, run by Lenore Skenazy, a huge advocate for letting children be children and just playing, especially outdoors:

Readers — In our desperation to create “smarter” kids, we have practically pinned them to their desks. Now educators are realizing this may be just the opposite of what is best for kids — including those with special needs, as Andrea Gordon writes in Toronto’s TheStar.com (a paper run by my favorite editor-in-chief from back when he and I were at the NY Daily News, Michael Cooke). – L.

It was a crisp March day outside Blaydon Public School when teachers discovered that 4-year-old Alex Wong could spell his name.There were no pencils or paper in sight. Everyone was bundled in winter jackets. Alex, who has autism, was in the outdoor classroom where his special-needs class played and explored for at least an hour every day, alongside 25 kids from the mainstream kindergarten class.

Teacher Sue Cooper noticed Alex march over to a pile of wood, put three sticks in a small wheelbarrow and push it to a spot on the pavement. One by one, he placed the sticks on the ground, forming the letter A. He made three more trips and came back with sticks to make three more letters, which he placed in a row: L, E and X.

Cooper’s jaw dropped. The teachers ran for a camera.

Alex is non-verbal and for a long time, his only interactions had been to throw things or hit. But in the fresh air, day after day, something started to change. Over several months Alex had watched the other children making structures. And that March morning, he was ready to take his turn.

The teachers say his is one example of how daily outdoor time is changing the way their young students — including those autism and other special needs — learn and behave.

Full post.

Obviously more research needs to be done, but there has been strong correlations drawn between outdoor time and decreasing of ADD and dementia symptoms, so it makes sense that putting humans in our natural surroundings would also help other mental disabilities and ailments.

There are a growing number of outdoor preschools, and I’d argue that there should be more outdoor elementary and even middle schools.

community · creativity · environment · music

Want to support music? Support green space and parks!

OK, maybe that’s overstating it a bit, but that’s the headline/thesis that Grist Editor Jess Zimmerman proposes in his short article about Seattle rapper Macklemore, and I gotta admit I like his thinking…

In this video for the Nature Conservancy, rapper Macklemore explains how municipal green space in his home city of Seattle influenced his career: He and his friends didn’t want to kick it at their parents’ houses, so they went and freestyled in parks. (Side note: Do people really still say “kick it,” or is Macklemore even older than I am?) We knew, of course, that Macklemore was into creative reuse, but who knew he had so many ideas about urban infrastructure?

The moral here is clear: Want more rappers? Make more parks. It’s just science.

I also love the fact that a hip hop artist is “kicking it” with the Nature Conservancy.

Do you know of any other artists who got their start playing in parks, beaches, or other urban green spaces? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

community · environment · Social

In Quebec City, the Rivers Return to the People

Another great example of creating enriching public spaces out of natural environments and features already in place.

THE DIRT

fortification-wall-quebec-city-canada-2249073339-800x536
Cities around the world with any sort of waterfront or riverfront have been revitalizing these places, which are often saddled with polluted ports and factories, creating vibrant community spaces and recreational areas in the process. But cities vary in their ability to take advantage of their water. Some cities have flush budgets while others don’t. Some cities can tap great local planning and design talent while others must import this talent, which can be expensive. At a session at the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Chicago, Peter Murphy, Ville de Quebec, explained how Quebec City has been lucky enough to use some $250 million in federal, provincial, and local funds and tap an amazing set of local planners, landscape architects, and architects to transform its riverfront for its 400th anniversary.

Murphy said Quebec City was the only walled city north of Mexico. It’s the “cradle of French culture…

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architecture · children · design · environment · happiness · Nature · play

The Best Playground Is The One Nature Provided | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation

children lawn running

A recent article in the online magazine Co.EXIST discussed a study that found children benefit from being in natural environments, even if the environment is designed to appear natural but is actually human-made:

Dawn Coe, an assistant professor in the Department of kinesiology, recreation, and sport studies at the University of Tennessee spent time observing the behavior and time children spent playing on a local playground. After playground renovations added a gazebo, slides, trees, a creek, and a natural landscape of rocks, flowers and logs, Coe returned a year later to observe differences. Working with a statistician, Coe found children spent twice as much time playing in the natural landscape, and were less sedentary after the renovation and more active.“Natural playscapes appear to be a viable alternative to traditional playgrounds for school and community settings,” said Coe in a university statement. “Future studies should look at these changes long-term as well as the nature of the children’s play.”

via The Best Playground Is The One Nature Provided | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation.

I attended a conference a couple of years ago where playground designers were reporting discovering the exact same thing – if you give a kid a pile of dirt and tree bark to play with and a bucket of water, they will have WAY more fun, play more, and learn some things as well.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise based on previous research on us humans:

For decades, scientists have reported our species exhibits a consistent, if not quite understood, response to spending time around nature: it boosts our mental and physical well being.

The scattering of findings have held in hospital beds, public housing, and Japanese forests. A 2001 study of public housing found the mere presence of trees and grass reduced reduced reported aggression and violence. Another showed people shown a stressful movie recovered to a normal state–as measured by metrics such as heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure–“faster and more complete[ly]” when exposed to natural rather than urban environments.

However, a lot of cities and schools are reluctant to install these kinds of playgrounds since they are considered “untested” or approved by several school or city boards. Thankfully, according to the article, cities are beginning to adopt and install these types of playgrounds:

“Natural playscapes are part of a growing trend appearing in cities across the US including Boston, Phoenix, Chicago, New York, Auburn and others.”

I hope to see more of these pop up around major cities. Do you have a natural playscape near your home? Tell us about it in the comments below.

cognition · environment · health · Nature · neuroscience · play

For developing brains and global health, it’s all about the trees

Nature
Trees are important for childhood development (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

As I head off on my latest grand adventure (a road-trip across Washington State), I will be driving through some fairly pristine landscapes; prairies, desert, forests, river basins. I love experiencing natural environments, even if it’s only from my car window. I find it rejuvenating and relaxing, more than a 90-minute massage! And enough research is coming out these days that finds I am not alone in my need for green spaces. So these two articles that were recently published seemed very timely for me. I know a lot of people wonder, “what does saving trees have anything to do with play?” Well, in a word, LOTS!

A new blog post by No Child Left Inside writer Richard Louv states:

From conception through early childhood, brain architecture is particularly malleable and influenced by environment and relationships with primary caregivers, including toxic stress caused by abuse or chronic neglect. By interfering with healthy brain development, such stress can undermine the cognitive skills and health of a child, leading to learning difficulty and behavior problems, as well as psychological and behavior problems, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments later in life.

A growing body of primarily correlative evidence suggests that, even in the densest urban neighborhoods, negative stress, obesity and other health problems are reduced and psychological and physical health improved when children and adults experience more nature in their everyday lives. These studies suggest that nearby nature can also stimulate learning abilities and reduce the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and we know that therapies using gardening or animal companions do improve psychological health. We also know that parks with the richest biodiversity appear to have a positive impact on psychological well-being and social bonding among humans.

While we can’t say with certainty that these influences play a direct role in early brain development, it’s fair to suggest that the presence of nature can soften the blow of toxic stress in early childhood and throughout our lives. It’s understandable that researchers have yet to explore the natural world’s impact on brain development because the topic itself is rather new. Also, scientists have a hard time coming up with an agreed-upon definition of nature – or of life itself.

He’s right that we can directly link the two, but we do have research that demonstrates all of the following:

  • play is good for you
  • stress is bad for you
  • less stress = more play
  • more nature = less stress
  • more nature = more play
  • The environment you grow up in as a kid leads to permanent learned behaviors as an adult.

So there is a STROOOONG correlation to more exposure to nature as a kid leading to a less stressed, healthier, more playful brain.

Fortunately or unfortunately, there are now calls out to step up preserving natural forests, with some researchers claiming deforestation poses more of a threat to the planet’s health than global warming:

Bill Laurance, a professor at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, studied 60 protected areas in tropical regions around the world and is the lead author of an article that will be published in tomorrow’s issue of Nature.

Tropical forests are the most diverse ecosystems on Earth, and failing to maintain them may drive more species to extinction, he said. To serve as a sanctuary for wildlife, the areas must also be protected from nearby development and other activities in adjacent lands that will have impact on designated preserves.

Protecting nature is important for our own health, as well as our children and grandchildren. Remember to be thankful for nature this weekend, and maybe even give a tree a hug; it’s playful and gets you closer to nature, literally.

architecture · behavior · community · culture · design · environment · Nature

The office for people who hate offices

This is a great idea! So many people have told me how they hate being inside the office all day, especially on nice summer days like this. We NEED exposure to the outdoors and nature in order to stay productive, mentally healthy, and physically fit. Just a 20-minute walk in the woods can have the same productivity benefits as an hour-long nap.

What’s your dream office? If you fantasize about bouldering on your lunch break–and appreciate being in a zero-waste, net zero-energy environment–you might want to take a look at the soon-to-be-completed space in the slideshow above: the new Alameda, Calif. headquarters of VF Corporation‘s outdoor and action sports coalition brands, which include The North Face, Lucy, and Jansport.

Now that VF’s outdoor brands are on good financial footing (especially The North Face), the corporation is working on a headquarters–set to be completed this summer–that was built with employee wish lists in mind. It shows.Below, some of the amenities available at the new 160,000-square-foot complex (many of them suggested by an employee task force).

  • A large onsite garden that will grow things like kale, tomatoes, and basil. VF expects to grow so much that employees won’t even be able to consume all of it. Leftover will be donated to a local food bank. Employees will be encouraged to help out with the garden, but local volunteers will also pitch in. A side note: Originally, VF toyed with the idea of installing a volleyball court, but employees elected to grow a garden instead.
  • Lots of natural light. 90% of employees will have access to direct sunlight, and in many areas of the complex, the overhead lights can often be kept off. Bonus: All the windows in the complex open (this should be a given, but it isn’t always).
  • Opportunities for onsite fitness, including an indoor fitness area and yoga room, an outside training area for bootcamp, an outside bouldering space, and an outdoor gear rental and repair shop.
  • A cafe serving the vegetables grown in the garden, among other things.
  • Eventually, if employees are really lucky, the ability to kayak out into the water just outside the complex (VF would need to make sure this is feasible and legal first, but employees have been asking for it).
  • A convenient location for almost everyone. When VF first started thinking about the new complex, it “took employee addresses and mapped out where they were” to figure out an ideal spot, according to Steve Rendle, group president of VF’s Outdoor & Action Sports Americas.
  • The office space is inside out: executive offices are in the middle of the room, and other employees sit by the windows.

VF is far from the only corporation to have an environmentally and outdoors-friendly campus. New Belgium Brewing Company, for example, buys clean energy, powers itself partially with methane from an on-site water treatment plant–and it offers perks like free bicycles and volleyball.

But the idea of a company keeping employees active, innovating, and considering the environment shouldn’t be a novel one. We hope, in other words, that this becomes a trend well outside the outdoor apparel industry.

Find out more here.

The only thing I’m bummed about is that they didn’t use one of the hangars on the old Alameda Air Base, that closed down just over 12 years ago and hasn’t had much development done with it since. It would have been very “green” to recycle those old structures, but I also understand the price and space limitations. Still, very exciting overall, and I hope this trend continues with new office buildings.

architecture · design · environment · health · Nature

China’s architects work to preserve natural environment

It is great to hear that Chinese architects and planners are working to retain and or restore the natural environment and beauty of China. And great to hear that Chinese government is more open to preservation rather than focusing purely on “progress.” Restoring and/or preserving the environment is good for China’s people’s physical and mental well-being, and healthier for the world at large.

THE DIRT


Chinese landscape architects are buffeted by two trends changing the planet: the information technology revolution coming out of the U.S. and one of the largest mass migrations in history, the current process of urbanization in China, said Liang Wei, PhD, a landscape architect and professor at the Beijing Tsinghua Urban Planning & Design Institute (THUPDI), at the American Institute of Architects convention in Washington, D.C. Liang said 10  million new residents are moving into Chinese cities each year, with one billion new square feet being built to accomodate the influx. By 2020, China will be 65 percent urban, which means landscape architects, planners, and architects have an unbelievable amount of work to do to make these new cities more livable, sustainable, and scalable while also undoing the worst environmental damages.

The incredible rate of urbanization has led to changes in how design is taught in China. Since the 1980s, the number of landscape architecture, architecture, and planning programs…

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architecture · disease · environment · happiness · health · mental health · psychology

Biophilic Building Design Held Back by Lack of Data

Really interesting article about the concept of biophilic design, something I’ve brought up a lot on this sight. In summary, humans love natural environments, so why haven’t our buildings and other spaces moved more in that direction? It’s all broken out very nicely in this post:

THE DIRT


Biophilic design is still at the bleeding-edge of green building design and hasn’t taken off yet. The obstacle may be the lack of data on the impact of biophilic design on health and well-being. Or perhaps it’s because there still hasn’t been that one model site that makes current practice irrelevant. Other possible reasons: “collective ignorance” or a “lack of imagination.” At a session at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) conference in Washington, D.C., some of early innovators in this field, Bill Browning, Founder, Terrapin Bright Green, Jason McClennan, CEO, International Living Future Institute / Cascadia Green Building Council, and Bob Berkebile, a principal at BNIM and an early green building innovator, discussed the many obstacles preventing more widespread use of these approaches and argued for rapidly stepping up research and promotion efforts.

Biophilia, which has been defined in earlier posts, is “the innate emotional affiliation of humans with all living things.” Defined by famed biologist…

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