Sowing the seeds for a deeper understanding of the power of nature as a healing space for individuals and communities
On a trip to England in 1995, Tom and Kitty Stoner visited an urban park tucked in the midst of a busy London neighborhood. This serene and protected park was used by many as a place of refuge during World War II. Wooden benches lined the walking path. On the back of many of the benches were the reflections of those who experienced a sense of community and solace in this special place during the worst days of WWII.
It was Tom and Kitty’s belief that if an urban green space could provide such a place of sanctuary at such a difficult time in history, perhaps places conceived and created by urban communities in our time could also provide opportunities for reflection and rejuvenation. From this idea – and with this desire – the TKF Foundation was formed. The speed, violence and alienation that characterize our current period in human history create an important need for open spaces, sacred places. It is the Foundation’s hope that the spaces it has helped to support bring some peace and well being to people’s lives.
When Kitty and I created the TKF Foundation and formulated its mission in 1996, we had no idea what the result would be. Today, we see that the idea of creating open, sacred places in nature, designed to provide an opportunity for a deeper human experience, has become compelling to a host of people across the spectrum: environmentalists, health care professionals, landscape designers, universities, corporate CEOs, local governments, and community activists, to name a few. More than 130 Open Spaces Sacred Places have been created in the Baltimore-Annapolis-Washington region with the Foundation’s support.
The people who have used these spaces during these years have helped us grasp the transformational effect of being intimately connected with nature. We understand this from the thousands of entries made in the community journal that is nestled in each of these sacred places. These powerful writings have raised a question in our minds. What if there could be scientific proof that mental and physical health could be substantially improved for individuals as a result of developing a personal connection with nature, especially in cities?
The Nature Sacred National Awards, granted in 2013, were designed to do just that. Cross-disciplinary teams comprised of distinguished designers and scientists have come together to design and study the impact of Open Spaces Sacred Places on the individuals who use them. These studies now underway will investigate individual outcomes (such as stress reduction, emotional healing, attention restoration, and personal resiliency) and the related consequences in the individual’s life context (such as household relations, learning and school performance, work productivity and satisfaction, and community cohesion) of time spent in nearby urban nature.
Through this initiative, we are supporting the empirical knowledge building that could be the tipping point about the transformational power of nature when experienced as a sacred place in cities. If the profound insights of the journal writings can be validated by empirical findings, then the integrated design and science can embolden community leaders to carry this message to policy makers, city planners, hospitals and health care providers, commercial developers, neighborhood associations, and beyond.
We hope to demonstrate the essential importance of people having opportunities to experience high quality nature in the city. Further, we want to offer proof that investments in urban greening can be profitable for local communities and thereby compel decision makers, both public and private, to invest in bringing nature to individuals in our cities. We invite you to follow these exciting projects and the research related to them through our blog, Open Voices; we are excited to share this new work with people and communities all across the nation.
Tom and Kitty Stoner