I found this article about a young boy whose mother does not let him play outside, because she is afraid of what may happen to him. As natural playground designers we often deal with over-protective adults; parents, teachers and carers, whose perceptions of risk are out of balance with reality. We work with them to allay their fears and create spaces where gentle risk taking becomes confidence boosting for the children and the watching adults. We work through a careful risk benefit analysis.
Nature Connections for Health
This evening I was chatting to a friend. She was literally 'full of the joys of spring'. My friend is a busy person, tending towards stressed. As mother of 4 busy sons, wife of a busy man and a very capable teacher working long hours preparing wholesome lessons for her lucky students she is in line for mental & /or physical burn out. - Sound familiar? She is fairly typical of many of us. However, she also knows about the benefits of nature connections to de-stress. So, she and her husband recently spent 2 nights in a tree house in Devon.
That there is a treehouse designed for adults to de-stress is both wonderful and fascinating. While we haggle with government and local authorities to be allowed to design more nature into the daily lives of schoolchildren and the elderly, smart entrepreneurs are getting on with it, and letting people access the mental and physical health benefits of nature. This is a great example of the free market taking the lead.
Apparently it's International Hug a Dog day on Monday, for mental health. We know nature connections (aka hugging a dog when there are no trees, birds or butterflies available) lower stress cortisol levels, reduce anxiety and can prevent depression. However, the concept of ownership and access makes health inequitable. The subtext reads : "You can only be healthy if you can afford to stay in a treehouse, or own a dog".
The good news is, if we have street trees and natural playspaces in our parks and schools, around our housing estates and, even, in those ghastly business parks, then everyone, regardless of ability to pay, can become a guardian of a space. They can be a protector of a nature connection, whether tree or stream, bird or bug. Nature connections for health. Now there's an idea
The presentation slide above summarises the main points of my message to the A Place to Live conference in Wanganui, New Zealand. It is offered in response to Richard Louv's keynote address that we need to connect children with nature.
I agree with him, but believe we need to look more widely. When we are looking at human restoration, when we are looking for our towns and cities to provide a life worth having, we need to consider salutogenic urban design. We need to ensure young and old, marginalised and engaged have equal access to nature connections in their daily lives. We need to ensure those same people can easily come together safely, and conveniently in a public space. Recently I was in Athens, presenting at the WHO"s Healthy Cities conference. Greece is broke. Its young people are unemployed in record numbers. I remarked on history and how Greece has risen and fallen several times since antiquity. The people are resilient and resourceful. They don't have a lot of public greenspace. They do have abundant, tiny, home-kitchen-sized neighbourhood cafes and pocket parks where people can come together to talk about their problems and celebrate their joy. They have strong cultural connections with each other.
If we are to create A Place to Live, if we are to create a Life Worth Having, we need to address planning issues. We need for tiny cafes to be a permissible activity within a residential neighbourhood. We need many more, attractive, accessible parks where we can feed the birds, watch the butterflies, and even help local authority's budgets and do some general maintenance.
I can hear you shrieking "WHAT?!" from here. :-) Maintain a public space?! Yes. There is overwhelming evidence that we need to interact with nature on a daily basis for our health and well-being. While it is beneficial to have a green view, it is even better for improving concentration, improving memory, reducing stress, relieving and preventing depression, reducing risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease if we can not only see, but touch, prune, weed and harvest produce from the land.
The good news is it is not difficult and it is not expensive to put supports in place for our people, young and old. We need first to acknowledge there is a problem. Second we need to evaluate available resources. Do we have local expertise in this area? Are governance systems supportive of health and well-being? Do local policies in schools, care homes, parks and gardens allow for the nature and social connections to take place? If not, where can we go for guidance?
The joy of my position is that I am able to join the dots, to link people and plants, to restore humans through environmental design. If you want to know more, get in touch. Contact us info @ greenstone design .co. nz
In 2012 Greenstone Design was newly launched in New Zealand. Founder, Gayle Souter-Brown, had a dream to build a team of passionate people to serve the needs of communities across Australasia. She had started with Greenstone Design UK and was keen to use her experience of UK, Europe, and Africa at home. First though, she needed to get the message out that we need to re-evaluate the landscape component in our development schemes. New housing, affordable housing, schools, hospitals and care homes have been designed and built with low cost amenity strips that do little to lift mood, alleviate social isolation, raise aspiration. Some people would say there was no money to do anything else. How could a garden, a patch of grass or a tree do anything other than look pretty, let alone boost health and well-being? Gayle Souter-Brown would say "you don't need a bigger budget, you just need to think a little, to see the connections and create the opportunities".
After a lengthy scientific peer review process of the book proposal, in November 2012 a contract with Routledge Press, London, was signed. It detailed that a book would be researched and written, within 12 months, explaining to academics and practitioners why it was worth their while rethinking their approach and their expectation of what was achievable. It had to be 100,000 words long and include 200 full colour images, +/- 10%, or the contract would be forfeited. The title took a while to finalise but the editor decided the more key words the more likely it was that people would find the book, read it, and act. Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Well-Being: Using Healing, Sensory and Therapeutic Gardens was delivered as a manuscript, late, on the 6th January 2014.
It took 8 months of Routledge Press's editing, copy editing and typesetting, checking and double-checking, to bring the book to fruition as a 318 page paper and ink reality. On 6th August 2014 it was released into the European market. 6 weeks later it was printed simultaneously in New York and Toronto and released in Canada, the US, NZ and Australia.
Meanwhile, the real work has continued. The design team has grown. Greenstone Design UK has flourished, with new projects in Russia, Tanzania and of course, nationally around the UK. Enquiries for an eco resort project in Azerbaijan are responded to with as much dedication as a small London charity in need of a community space. Greenstone Design in NZ has grown to become recognised as providing leading research-based design and review services. Public space - the gritty streetscapes, hospitals, schools, dementia care and aged care, Early Childhood centres and social housing have all been subjected to the Greenstone Design signature salutogenic design appraisal. Examples from these projects fill the book, sitting alongside research and discoveries from the world's greatest thinkers.
There is a blog by Gayle Souter-Brown, about Salutogenic Design, on Routledge's website . Biophilia, bio-diverse planting, planting for health and well-being, soft landscapes and sensory-rich spaces are all part of the recipe for a healthy dose of Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Well-Being: Using Healing, Sensory and Therapeutic Gardens.
This week I'm travelling the length of NZ with the NZIA. I and 2 other urban designers - Steve Thorne and Dr Angelique Edmonds - are presenting the 2014 urban design speaker series.
It is interesting to see who comes along. The 3 presentations all come from different perspectives but each reach the same conclusion. Urban design for health and well being is more than just an interesting topic of research , more than a soon-to-be short-lived 'new fangled idea' . Urban design for health and well being offers architects, planners and policy makers an opportunity to contribute to the liveability ratings and functional wellness of a community.
It requires big thinking and a collaborative approach. If we take responsibility for our designs we acknowledge the impact environmental design can make. Community gardens, roof top gardens, parks and pocket green space combine with the built environment to affect mental health, stress and depression. These problems occur within education, social housing and the workplace, in fact wherever there are people who are stressed by their environment. In these situations salutogenic design interventions become cost effective, achievable goals.
We are getting the message out but more people need to join the conversation. We have both a challenge and an opportunity to fundamentally make a difference to the health and well being if our client communities. Care to join us?
Today I blogged about natural play in schools. Biophilia and living cities rely on us as designers and you as clients to work together to create natural play opportunities so young and old can connect with nature. If we are to effect social, economic and environmental change we need opportunities to create landscapes for health and well-being, in schools and early years settings, around social housing, and in public gardens. Children, and their parents, need accessible, convenient nature connection points.
Sustainable, playable, urban design can be used to create resilient communities. Urban trees, street trees and natural play opportunities combine to protect and enhance the mental health of our people. We cannot stop the hubris of the modern world, but we can design environments that afford spaces for quiet contemplation, places where we can pause and reflect.
Over the years I have set up a variety of blogs. Some are updated more frequently than others. The Blogger blog is an oldie but a goodie. Rather than rewriting today's post here I thought I would just share the link. I hope you enjoy it.
E.O. Wilson found in his seminal book Biophilia that we have an innate love of living things. The term Biophilia describes the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life. Trees, small plants, large animals, insects and the weather are all part of that nature connection. I believe it is because we are hardwired to respond, that our biophilia determines our positive neurological and physiological response to natural environments.
For children, a nature connection is a vital part of their development into healthy, happy well-adjusted adults. If we lose our connections or do not forge early links with the natural world it is like losing a good friend. We become stressed and depressed and look for ways to replace our loss, often without being aware of our deficit or our actions. Often the ways we act are not healthy lifestyle choices - resulting in childhood depression, eating to excess, inactive lifestyles watching TV or playing with computer games, or the reverse, non stop structured activities such as an endless round of sports, dance and music classes.
Children need our guidance. They need us to provide safe opportunities to engage with nature and then to allow them to get on and explore them. They also need us to let them get on with the business of being children, to play, experiment, explore, test limits, meet new friends and develop confidence. Children today need sensory gardens as never before. In our modern digitally tuned in world too many children have tuned out from nature. In the past 20 years New Zealand and Australia have seen noticeable increases in childhood depression, teenage suicide, low school aspirations.
But what is a sensory garden? Can we 'çure' or prevent society's ills with more greenspace? Numerous studies now prove the relationship between human health and well-being and a nature connection. When we are outdoors we are more likely to make deep social connections. Humans are social animals and as such require both nature and social connections to feel at our peak. It has been found that children in their vulnerable developing years, from 0-19, need to form nature connections, need natural experiences. They need to know the heat of the sun, the cool of the shade, the feel of the breeze and the sounds of the cicadas. A children's sensory garden is not a playground and it is not a lavender maze. It is an area of sensory delight, designed to stimulate and refresh, calm and renew.
All children benefit from time in such sensory gardens, but some even more than others. Children with special needs require more exposure to nature experiences than their non disabled peers.In a public space like a Botanical Gardens children's garden it is good to provide a space that offers 'something for everyone'. We like to design paths and seats around the periphery of a space so children with autistic spectrum disorders and those who just wish to observe the action can do so from a safe vantage point. It is important that all children can safely get into the sensory garden, up close and personal with the plants and wildlife. Inclusive design is about more than simple accessible design. Path surfaces play an important role in the garden's design, as do their routes through the planting. Trees planted up close to the path allow children to feel the bark, and examine markings at close range.
When we designed the huge sensory play gardens for the prestigious Anglo-American School of Moscow, we were tasked with providing a safe place for children to engage with nature, in what can be a particularly hostile environment. The first thing we did was design lots of robust bio-diverse planting for hide and seek areas, lots of shade trees to dilute the hot summer sun, flowering and fruiting plants to attract birds and beneficial insects, and to provide fresh food for the children to pick and eat. Rills of water down the slope and winding paths allowed the children to explore and follow the stream, to observe and experiment (whose leaf would get there fastest? how high do you need to build a dam before the water builds up and flows over it?)
25 years as an international sensory garden designer and consultant has taught me lots of things. One of the most important is that big budgets are not necessary for big impact. When we design children's gardens we are emphasizing nature. Fortunately no one has put a price on visiting birds and bees. When we design for the health and well-being of our children we design for healthy ecology. Win : win environmental and social gains makes for livable cities and resilient communities. The text book I'm writing on Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Well-Being will be published by Routledge Press in September 2014. It includes a whole chapter on design for children.
Forest bathing in a biophilic city, Otari reserve, Wellington, New Zealand
Forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku refers to time spent walking in forests. In Japan the practice has been studied by forestry, agriculture and health officials. The rest of the world is now catching on to the idea that rather than being a nice-to-have feature, urban forests are vital to balance the health effects of modern life.
Walking in forests (shinrin-yoku) may prevent the onset of chronic illnesses like cancers, reduce blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones (which may have a preventive effect on hypertension). It is also credited with creating calming psychological effects through changes observed in parasympathetic and sympathetic nerves.
Forest bathing appears to increase the level of serum adiponectin--a hormone that in lower concentrations is associated with obesity, type 2 DM (diabetes mellitus), cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome, among other metabolic disorders. A combined study found shinrin-yoku reduces anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue and feelings of emotional confusion.
For the full study findings, click here
Natural play opportunities are part of salutogenic urban design.
With so many billions being spent on new hospitals and community health care facilities being built around the world it is timely to pause and consider the best use of health funding. While we will always need a central place for treatment of the seriously ill it makes sense to take a salutogenic approach and prevent as much illness as we can.
To do that we need to ensure our urban design promotes barrier free access and engagement with nature, promotes social cohesion, encourages healthy eating of locally grown fresh foods, mitigates climate change with long-lived tree planting, natural shade and solar orientation of buildings for passive heating and cooling and encourages an active lifestyle. Given that that is what Greenstone Design advocates and practices on a daily basis we are gearing up to manage the increasing demand for our very specialised service!
Where people are already within the hospital system we can reduce their length of stay, their need for pain relief and overall recovery time with landscape led interventions. Environmental improvements offer a win : win situation for all.
In an education setting, it is important to offer outdoor learning environments. Landscape-led design interventions offer mental health benefits and promote a healthy active lifestyle.
Within a social housing setting we need to ensure public space offers a mix of playful communal and private space, natural shade and shelter, flowers and wildlife, with accessible fruit and vegetable growing.
Gayle Souter-Brown founded Greenstone Design in UK in 2006, serving Europe, Africa, Asia, South and North America. Since 2012 the expanding team is delighted to offer the same salutogenic landscape architecture + design practice from NZ to the southern hemisphere, giving a truly global reach.
> care homes / dementia care
> inclusive play
> special needs
> school grounds design
> Professional Development
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Registered Office: 384 Minchins Rd, Sheffield, NZ 7580.
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