Open Voices Blog

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

Why are we less stressed in green spaces?

02/24/15 | View Comments

Each month in our Open Voices blog we share insight from leaders in our communities who are advancing what it means to have sacred, open green spaces in our cities. In February, we look at the roots of the TKF Foundation’s mission to provide public greenspaces that offer temporary sanctuary, encourage reflection, provide solace and engender peace and well being.

Did you know there are two theoretical frameworks that attempt to explain the psychological experience of chronic stress and the restorative effect of nature? The framework that has received the most attention, Attention Restoration Theory (ART), was developed by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, and proposes that nature has certain properties that allow a person to recover from the mental fatigue caused by the focused attention needed to get things done at work, school, and in our busy lifestyles. The other perspective, psychoevolutionary theory, looks at restoration from a more general perspective of stress reduction, and posits that people respond to certain perceptual qualities of nature that encourage our physiological systems to relax and recover in ways that help improve behavioral and cognitive performance. Both frameworks generally argue that human beings react positively to certain qualities and characteristics of natural environments.

brain-park

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Can Community Spaces Relieve Stress?

02/17/15 | View Comments

Each month in our Open Voices blog we share insight from leaders in our communities who are advancing what it means to have sacred, open green spaces in our cities. In February, we look at the roots of the TKF Foundation’s mission to provide public greenspaces that offer temporary sanctuary, encourage reflection, provide solace and engender peace and well being.

Can community green spaces help relieve the stress from everyday tasks and life events? And, what might be special about nearby green spaces?

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that a nearby park helps you feel better and spend time with your family. But does science have anything to say about stress and nearby nature spaces? We know that simple visual exposure to nearby nature (such as window views and green roadsides) alone or combined with moderate activity in green spaces can effectively reduce stress. Multiple studies demonstrate the restorative benefits of nature when participants complete a stressful task followed by prompts of natural or built areas. Blood pressure lowers when study subjects look out a window with a view of trees. Nature walks are associated with blood pressure improvement, better task performance, and decreased anger compared to results of an urban walk! 1 And,we know that our heart rates decrease more rapidly with a window view of a natural scene compared to a view of a blank wall or a natural scene presented on a plasma screen.2

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Open Voices News Roundup: February 12

02/12/15 | 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.

A Natural Match: Drexel Research Team Connects Urban Design to Public Health

“As inner-city school kids climb and swing at a state-of-the-art playground with a rain garden and trees, will their surroundings make a difference in their health and social well-being? At urban community gardens nearby, will the fresh produce and a greener view help local residents breathe easier? Such questions, connecting urban design and natural systems with public health, are the focus of a new convergence of research and community engagement efforts at Drexel. A new team of faculty from the School of Public Health and Westphal College of Media Arts & Design is bringing together research on these interdisciplinary questions within community-based projects in West Philadelphia—some of which are already underway, and some that have yet to begin.”

First Ladies support new Healing Garden at Children’s National

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Feeling Stressed? Take a Time Out in Nature

02/10/15 | View Comments

Each month in our Open Voices blog we share insight from leaders in our communities who are advancing what it means to have sacred, open green spaces in our cities. In February, we look at the roots of the TKF Foundation’s mission to provide public greenspaces that offer temporary sanctuary, encourage reflection, provide solace and engender peace and well being.

The influences of stress on general health and incidence of disease is well documented in the medical community. And most of us, simply by carrying out tasks in everyday life, feel the sources and consequences of stress. When we are faced with ‘acute’ stressors in our lives – such as loss of a job, or a divorce – we turn to coping and resilience strategies that immediately address negative emotions or situations. Support for stressful life events can be found in formalized health care centers and community groups.  But, what do we do about chronic stress?

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Open Voices News Roundup: February 5

02/05/15 | 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.

How Trees Can Make City People Happier (and Vice Versa)

“There’s plenty of evidence that hints of nature help us humans live in the urban spaces we’ve built. About five years ago, one major study showed that, across the world, living in cities is associated with higher levels of depression and other mental health problems; a rash of studies since have shown that people feel like green spaces — parks and community gardens, usually — help them deal with the stresses of urban life. Mark Taylor, a public health researcher at the University of Trnava in Slovakia, wondered, though, if there might be a way to establish that connection between nature and mental health without relying on people’s own accounts of their well-being. “There’s been a fair bit of research that looks at different ways in which people say they feel some kind of benefit of being around natural spaces,” he says. “But nearly all of that was subjective.” You can ask people if they feel better, he says, and plenty might say they do. But how to know for sure?”

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Open Voices News Roundup: January 29

01/29/15 | 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.

How Much Public Space Does a City Need?

“How much of Manhattan is dedicated to public space? For starters, there’s Central Park, but the island’s oasis is only 1.3 square miles, 5.6 percent of the borough’s land area. You might remember those swaths of green way uptown, like Highbridge Park and Inwood Hill Park (the only natural forest left in Manhattan), but together they’re just another one-half square mile, accounting for a mere 2.1 percent. Add in all the well-worn parks from Marcus Garvey to Bryant, the slivers of open space along the rivers, privately-owned public spaces like Occupy’s Zuccotti Park, newfangled innovations like the High Line, and Janette Sadik-Khan’s pedestrian plazas. Maybe 15 percent at best? Guess again. When we think about public space, we picture parks and greenways, but overlook the largest single public space asset in any city’s rolls: streets. Include the pavement New Yorkers traverse every day in your public space calculation and the city’s most prosperous borough hits the magic proportion: 49 percent.”

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Shinrin Yoku

01/27/15 | View Comments

Each month in our Open Voices blog we share insight from leaders in our communities who are advancing what it means to have sacred, open green spaces in our cities. As you resolve to make your 2015 a spectacular year, we encourage you to spend more time outside for you and your family’s mental health and well-being.

 

This past year we have seen an awakening among many of the benefits of taking a simple walk through a forest. This relaxing activity is called Shinrin Yoku, Japanese for “forest bathing”. Have you heard about this? Do you think more people are becoming aware of the benefits of time spent in the outdoors?

As Spring begins to unfold, we encourage you to take a walk in a nearby forested area.

Breathe slowly, smell and see deliberately, walk purposefully.

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Open Voices News Roundup: January 22

01/22/15 | 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.

Big Park, Great City?

“You don’t have to look very far these days to see that we are in the midst of an urban park renaissance. Examples from all over the country are proving that parks can raise city profiles, stimulate development, increase property values, attract tourists and, most importantly, improve the quality of life for urban dwellers. Because of this, well-designed open space has become a must-have for cities striving to be considered world class. Big cities attract most of the attention for this, but medium-sized ones such as BirminghamSanta Fe, and Tulsa are making statements with new parks, as well. Now, thanks to a pending $52 million land deal, Raleigh, North Carolina may soon be added to this list. For it to succeed, however, the city needs to prove it has grown up and is ready to be more urban. It certainly has the potential to be a shining example of how to build a 21st century urban park, but it could just as easily become a cautionary tale.”

Walking is Going Places

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What do we need to be healthy?

01/20/15 | View Comments

Each month in our Open Voices blog we share insight from leaders in our communities who are advancing what it means to have sacred, open green spaces in our cities. As you resolve to make your 2015 a spectacular year, we encourage you to spend more time outside for you and your family’s mental health and well-being.

How does your neighborhood help you to be healthier? What would you change or add?

What do we need to be healthy? According to the World Health Organization, health is not simply an absence of disease or infirmity, but is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. In last week’s post, we jumped right into community green spaces and children’s health. But what do we know about designing healthy communities for all ages of people?

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Healthy Minds in 2015

01/13/15 | View Comments

Each month in our Open Voices blog we share insight from leaders in our communities who are advancing what it means to have sacred, open green spaces in our cities. As you resolve to make your 2015 a spectacular year, we encourage you to spend more time outside for you and your family’s mental health and well-being.

 

The mental and physical health of the children in your life is likely a top priority. When we talk about children and green spaces, we tend to think of planning and design for children as opportunities for running, jumping, swinging and climbing. Such gross motor activities are important to the physical health of children, but our mental health develops throughout childhood and life in subtler ways. Pause and think about when you were a child. Where did you play? How did you play? Do you remember picking up a small stick and discovering a world of tiny insects going about their day? Or spending an afternoon with your friends absorbed in a fantasy world built from imagination, found objects, and tall grass? Increasingly, child development researchers and playground designers are considering the interactions of natural objects and space, fine motor skills, and mental health. 1

Children in a Sensory Garden

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    We are a private nonprofit that supports, informs, and inspires the creation of publicly accessible urban green spaces. We believe that every city resident needs nearby green space to provide opportunities for mindfulness, respite, and renewal. The Foundation has issued its final grants to build five Open Spaces Sacred Places and research the impacts on a variety of users with the hope that the powerful connection between nature, spirit and human wellbeing will be scientifically proven.

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