Open Voices Blog

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

Recommended Viewing: Gazing at Virtual Nature is Good for Your Psychological Well-being

01/16/14 | View Comments

In an article published by Slate.com, Sue Thomas, a visiting fellow at the Media School at University of Bournemouth in the United Kingdom, tell us it’s long been proven that glimpses of nearby nature can have beneficial effects on our mental functioning and well-being .  In the 1980’s experimental psychologists Rachel and Steven Kaplan found that people with access to nearby nature experienced great health benefits and even seemingingly insignifact views can offer healing impact.   The Kaplan’s work dovetails with the concept of Biophilia as promoted by E.O. Wilson and biophilic design as championed by Stephen Kellert  but could the digital world also be of value in restoring cognitive and mental functioning?

Building on the work of cognitive neuro-scientist Marc Berman (a Nature Sacred Award recipient) which demonstrates the beneficial effect of walking in urban environments,   Psychologist Deltcho Valtchanov studied subjects’ response to virtual environments.  He reported that virtual spaces, too, deliver beneficial results, giving rise to the term “technophilia.”

No access to greenspace?  No time to take a walk out in nature?  Why not give it a try? Here are some images to get you started:

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In Joplin, MO, a City Rebuilds as its Tornado-Ravaged Park is Restored

01/14/14 | View Comments

Last month, the Landscapes of Resilience team marked an important milestone in the process of creating a healing garden in Joplin, Missouri’s Cunningham Park. Nancy Falxa-Raymond (U.S. Forest Service) and Keith Tidball (Cornell University) joined a passionate group of architecture students and professors from Drury University. Led by Traci Sooter and Nancy Chikaraishi, the group constructed key elements of the Butterfly Garden & Overlook, including water features, benches, stone walls, and a pavilion.

smart mob

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Open Voices News Roundup: January 13

01/13/14 | View Comments

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

Green Spaces Have Lasting Positive Effect on Well-being
UK researchers found moving to a green space had a sustained positive effect, unlike pay rises or promotions, which only provided a short-term boost.  The authors said the results indicated that access to good quality urban parks was beneficial to public health.  The findings appear in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.  Co-author Mathew White, from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter, UK, explained the study built on the findings of a study that showed people living in greener urban areas were displaying fewer signs of depression or anxiety… Dr. White said his team wanted to see whether living in greener urban areas had a lasting positive effect on people’s sense of well-being or whether the effect also disappeared after a period of time.”

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Friday Flower: Name This Bloom!

01/10/14 | View Comments

Every Friday we publish a new Friday Flower. We ask our readers, as a game, to identify the flower. Here’s today’s beautiful bloom — anybody know what it is? (And guess more Friday Flowers here.)

Cornus-mas_1.10.14

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Constructing a Happy City: An Interview with Charles Montgomery

01/08/14 | View Comments

Charles Montgomery will be the first to admit to you that he did not start off as an urban planner or a neuroscientist. He started his journey that led to his most recent book, Happy City, as a curious journalist wanting to learn more about what it means to be happy and how our environment, social and physical, plays a role in happiness.

His curiosity led him down a path where he learned more about urban design, the emerging science of happiness and how the two overlap. He has used the insights gained from his research to drive experiments such as those mentioned below with the BMW Guggenheim Lab, as well as in advising urban planners, students and policy-makers around the world including the Canada, England and the U.S.

Open Voices had the opportunity to talk with Montgomery about his work and how he sees the connections between environment and happiness being applied to green spaces in urban communities.

Open Voices:  To start off, how have you developed such an interesting intersection of interests with urban planning and researching happiness?

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Open Voices News Roundup: January 6

01/06/14 | View Comments

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

Urban Nature: How to Foster Biodiversity in World’s Cities
“A few years ago in Baltimore County, Maryland, environmental staffers were reviewing a tree-planting proposal from a local citizens group. It called for five trees each of 13 different species, as if in an arboretum, on the grounds of an elementary school in a densely-populated neighborhood. It seemed like a worthy plan, both for the volunteer effort and the intended environmental and beautification benefits. Then someone pointed out that there were hardly any oaks on the list, even though the 22 oak species native to the area are known to be wildlife-friendly. Local foresters, much less local wildlife, could barely recognize some of the species that were being proposed instead…Though it may be too soon to call it an urban wildlife movement, initiatives focused on urban biodiversity seem to be catching on. The U.S. Forest Service, which once laughed off the idea that anything urban could be wild now supports a growing urban forest program.”

A Dose Of Nature Helps City Dwellers Fight Their Need For Instant Gratification

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Open Voices News Roundup: December 23

12/23/13 | View Comments

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

Hiking in a Winter Wonderland
“Just because temperatures have dropped doesn’t mean outdoor efforts to elevate your heart rate should take a nose dive, too. New York City offers many walking trails and paths through scenic, wooded parks and along breathtaking waterways. “Winter is a great time to get out and see the parks in a new way once the trees have shed all of their leaves,” said Sarah Aucoin, director of the Urban Park Rangers program, which offers guided hikes and walks in the city’s park all year. “You can see wildlife and get your heart pumping at the same time.” If you struggle to stay active in the winter, walking may inspire you to get outdoors. Dr. Susan Kansagra, deputy commissioner for the division of health promotion and disease prevention at the New York City health department, said that regular walking helps reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and colon and breast cancer.”

Improve Your Health with the Forest Therapy

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Open Voices News Roundup: December 16

12/16/13 | View Comments

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

‘Wild Urbanism’ in the Middle of Putin’s Moscow
“Just beyond Moscow’s Red Square, past the iconic domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral and the walls of the Kremlin, a new landmark is planned for Russia’s largest metropolis. In a nod to the city’s increasingly globalized identity, the new landmark will not come solely from the church or government. Instead, it will be a 13-acre park open to everyone and developed by a team of internationally renowned architects best known for designing the glam High Line in Manhattan. Inspired by the ecological diversity of Russia, Zaryadye Park will be the first new park built in Moscow since 1958, rising on a former Jewish ghetto once slated for Stalin’s tallest skyscrapers… Under the vision hatched by Diller Scofido + Renfro and Putin’s administration, free-flowing walkways and permeable pavers will encourage exploration through park areas designed to recall Russia’s varied landscapes of tundra, steppe, forest and wetlands.”

Prince George’s children learn where their food comes from at Hard Bargain Farm

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Friday Flower: Name This Bloom!

12/13/13 | View Comments

Every Friday we publish a new Friday Flower. We ask our readers, as a game, to identify the flower. Here’s today’s beautiful bloom — anybody know what it is? (And guess more Friday Flowers here.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 9.27.02 AM

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Mayors for Parks Coalition: Protecting Public Spaces

12/11/13 | View Comments

From Denver, CO to Fort Worth, TX, a new bipartisan coalition is on the rise to help support and protect public parks, trails and green spaces in urban areas. The Mayors for Parks coalition, a project from the City Parks Alliance, is aiming to remind Congress and the White House how critical parks are to urban areas.

The coalition is specifically pushing for reauthorization and robust funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is set to expire in 2015, and is a critical source of funding for city parks in the US. Since its creation in 1965, the LWCF has funded the creation of more than 42,000 state and local parks, playgrounds, urban wildlife refuges, greenways, trails, and other open spaces. But the LWCF has been underfunded by millions of dollars the past few years.

There are five other mayors from cities across the country joining Mayors Betsey Price of Fort Worth and Michael Hancock of Denver in their commitment to protecting urban parks and the funding that keeps them running. The mayors are looking to expand the coalition as they all realize how vital these parks are to the health and happiness of their citizens.

Below is one of the videos release along with the launch of the coalition:

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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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