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News and conversations about the growing evidence of the healing power of nature and green development in cities

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Go With the Flow: Water Management & Public Space Planning

Russell Shorto for the New York Times reports on US states incorporating water management into urban planning, but wonders if communal strategies embraced in Europe will work in New York.
From heavily vegetated barrier islands to verdant parks along the…

Open Voices News Roundup: April 21

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture and urban planning, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.
Water and Wellness: Green Infrastructure for Health Co-Benefits
“With…

Open Voices News Roundup: April 14

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture and urban planning, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.
Does Nature Make Us Happy?
“In today’s age of…

Open Voices News Roundup: March 31

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture and urban planning, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.
Just a Spoonful of Nature:  How Much Do We…

Go With the Flow: Water Management & Public Space Planning

04/22/14 | View Comments

Russell Shorto for the New York Times reports on US states incorporating water management into urban planning, but wonders if communal strategies embraced in Europe will work in New York.

From heavily vegetated barrier islands to verdant parks along the shoreline, public greenspaces are poised to play a central role in water management strategies in a Post-Sandy world. The key transformation, according to Henk Ovink, is to shift public opinion from worry to acceptance. Stop fighting larger storm surges and rising sea levels with countless iterations of seawalls seeking to protect dryland, and embrace the occasional deluge with tidal zone-like flexibility.

Mr. Ovink is adviser to Shaun Donovan, US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, working to frame the public debate on how to protect our largest cities following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Originally from the Netherlands, Mr. Ovink has driven shifts in public opinion and policy related to water management strategies while he was Director of Spatial Planning and Water Management.

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Open Voices News Roundup: April 21

04/21/14 | View Comments

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture and urban planning, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.

Water and Wellness: Green Infrastructure for Health Co-Benefits
“With careful design, green spaces can manage runoff and provide a range of co-benefits. Integrated planning of green infrastructure and parks systems helps to cost-effectively provide multiple benefits and contributes to more livable communities…Designing green infrastructure for stormwater management as well as co-benefits, particularly human health, offers several opportunities. The cost-benefit analysis of green infrastructure installations can include a broader set of economic returns. Design and project messaging that incorporates the co-benefits of health and well-being may engage additional community partners and be more compelling to the general public.”

Green beats blues: Nature prevents stress, anxiety

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Open Voices News Roundup: April 14

04/14/14 | View Comments

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture and urban planning, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.

Does Nature Make Us Happy?
“In today’s age of high technology, research shows that our hunger for the natural world still endures. In fact, our connections with nature could just be the best medicine for people of all ages—improving our health, happiness, and well-being. Those same connections could also heal the planet.”

Recognizing Resilience
“In 2012, a year after a devastating tornado hit the town of Joplin, Missouri leaving 161 people dead and leveling Joplin High School and St. John’s Hospital, President Obama addressed the graduating seniors:  ’There are a lot of stories here in Joplin about unthinkable courage and resilience…[People in Joplin] learned that we have the power to grow from these experiences.  We can define our lives not by what happened to us, but by how we respond.’”

Adrian Benepe:  Natural Parks Define American Cities

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Open Voices News Roundup: April 7

04/07/14 | View Comments

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture and urban planning, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.

Featured Scientist:  Lynne Westphal on Our Long and Complicated Relationship with Forests
“Even 20 years after writing her thesis on the motivations of TreeKeepers in Chicago, Lynne Westphal can quote some of the people she talked to about why they chose to dedicate time to planting and tending trees.  One TreeKeeper said: ‘trees soften the incessantly stark lines of human endeavor,’ Westphal said. Now the Project Leader for the Northern Research Station’s People and their Environments unit, Westphal continues to do research aimed at understanding the bonds between people and nature.  ’That is part of what fascinates me,’ she said. ‘Finding out how people care for and react to the natural world.’”

Bringing Nature to Humans: How to Evaluate the Next Generation of Urban Parks and Green Spaces

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Open Voices News Roundup: March 31

03/31/14 | View Comments

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture and urban planning, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.

Just a Spoonful of Nature:  How Much Do We Need to Maintain Wellness?
“How much exposure to nature is needed to improve physical and mental health? This is a question that the Biophilic Cities Project and other researchers are trying to answer. Roger Ulrich’s landmark study in 1984 investigated whether recovering gallbladder surgery patients who were assigned a room with a window view of nature saw beneficial results (Ulrich, 1984). The results showed that patients with window views of trees had shorter hospital stays, fewer negative nurses evaluation comments, and took fewer moderate and strong pain-relieving drugs…Since then other researchers have tried to answer various questions regarding nature’s impact on wellness.”

Vacant Lots Get a Green Makeover
“Vacant lots are a big problem for cities that have lost a lot of their population, like Detroit and Cleveland. That’s got people tinkering with ways to do something meaningful with the space, such as plant an urban farm or create a neighborhood park. But those options take money, time, and maintenance, so researchers in Cleveland are testing a way to help revitalize an area—and improve stormwater management—without breaking the bank.”

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Open Voices News Roundup: March 24

03/24/14 | View Comments

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture and urban planning, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.

Ecotherapy:  Healing the Body by Healing the Earth
“The term ‘biophilia,’ which literally translates as ‘love of life or living systems,’ is used to describe the theory that suggests there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems and that this bond is essential to good physical and mental health.1 We have a natural attraction to all that is alive and vital — all humans have ‘the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.’2 This premise helps explain why many spend time and energy caring for plants and flowers in their homes … in other words, our natural love for life helps us sustain life.”

Environmental Design and Research on Human Health Effects of Open Spaces in Urban Areas

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Friday Flower: Name This Bloom!

03/21/14 | View Comments

Every Friday we publish a new Friday Flower.   We ask our readers, as a game, to identify this flower.   Here’s today’s photo — a woodland native that  forms extensive colonies by spreading underground; seen here as it’s just emerging — anybody know what it is?  (And guess more Friday Flowers here.)

LOV emerging

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Recommended Reading: Environmental Design and Research on Human Health Effects of Open Spaces in Urban Areas

03/20/14 | View Comments

“Increasingly, human-environment interactions are recognized as a key determinant of human health and well-being,”  according to a recent article in the Human Ecology Review.   The article reviews the academic literature pertaining to the human health effects of spending time in nearby nature in cities, assessing the growing evidence base around experiencing nature in an urban setting and its subsequent impact on the individual, home and workplace; creating environments conducive to physical activity in cities; and smart growth practices in urban planning.  Of note, the authors identify several gaps in the evidence and recognize a general “lack of focus on health outcomes and a tendency to analyze at the neighborhood and community scale rather than on specific open spaces and the design elements within those spaces.”  Deeper understanding of the critical relationship of these aspects can better inform the development and creation of public greenspaces in cities that promote human health and healing.

small St. Anthony's050

6 key design criteria that contribute to creating urban greenspaces conducive to health and healing include:

  • Make spaces compatible with and encourage human activities
  • Construct a setting for sensory stimulation
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Open Voices News Roundup: March 17

03/17/14 | View Comments

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture and urban planning, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.

Mid-Rise:  Density at a Human Scale
“All growing cities must find ways to develop at appropriate, transit-supporting densities without overwhelming the surrounding context. The human-scaled, mid-rise building can be a solution—but achieving a good neighbourhood “fit” is not easy…Like many things in the design of cities, when you let the limits of human movement dictate size and proportions, the scale begins to feel human. No surprise there.”

Beautifying Public Places:  The Importance of Plants

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Friday Flower: Name This Bloom!

03/14/14 | View Comments

Every Friday we publish a new Friday Flower.   We ask our readers, as a game, to identify this flower.   Here’s today’s photo — a great plant with arching branches that loves to tumble over masonry walls — anybody know what it is?  (And guess more Friday Flowers here.)

Jasminum nudiflorum, Winter Jasmine

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We are a private nonprofit that funds publicly accessible urban green space. We believe that everyone needs to “be in nature” as nature both heals and unifies us. The Foundation partners with organizations to create Open Spaces Sacred Places, which increase a sense of community and contribute to a deepening of human connections. These sacred places reawaken and reaffirm the powerful connection between nature, spirit and human wellbeing.

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