Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Making Friends Along The 'Way

Making Friends Along The 'Way

It's all about the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood.

Property Owner and Tenant Concerns

People and institutions who own land along proposed greenway corridors are an important group. It is always a good idea to meet with property owners one-on-one. When approaching landowners, try to anticipate their concerns so that you can answer their questions and calm any fears. Ask about their concerns. Try to determine whether their concerns are real or the result of misinformation, hostility toward government, or simple territorial instincts. Always listen carefully and make sure landowners know you take these matters seriously. Landowner opposition can sink a greenway project or color public attitudes so that funding is difficult to secure. Remember, the greenway will affect them as much as anyone, so explain how the greenway will benefit them. Common landowner concerns are:

* Liability. Always be prepared to discuss liability issues. What happens if someone is injured on the landowner's property? Is the landowner covered by adequate insurance, either Ws or her own or as provided by the land trust or state or local government liability legislation?

* Crime. Even though there has been no documented increase in criminal activity on greenways, crime is almost always a concern. In Greenways for America (pp. 186, 187), Charles Little cites the example of Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail. Police officers who patrolled the trail were interviewed about problems with crime and vandalism. Their response was that "there is not a greater incidence of burglaries and vandalism of homes along the trail." The police noted that problems in parks are generally confined to areas of easy motor vehicle access. Despite fears that greenways will be used by "outsiders," it's usually the local citizens who use the path. Merely opening a greenway to public use may in fact discourage unsavory activities in derelict areas. Safety issues will be different in a small, rural trailway than in a large recreational greenway in a big city. (See Fact Sheet No. 4)

* Property Taxes and Property Values. Some people favor developing open space to expand the tax base. Expansion of the tax base, however, does not necessarily mean increased revenue to the local government. Development almost always means an increase in infrastructure and public service requirements, and the cost of providing these services often outweighs the additional tax revenue.
The other property tax issue you will probably face is a concern that the local government will increase taxes to pay for the greenway. In fact, increased tax revenues are usually generated by an increase in property values on land near the greenway. The exceptions would be jurisdictions where property assessments lag behind market values and states that have passed legislation limiting real-estate tax increases. Some communities have levied additional taxes to pay for greenways, but these taxes usually take the form of special assessments. Landowners who donate easements can actually reduce their own property tax assessments. In addition, easements reduce the cost of full acquisition for the town.

* Private Property Rights. Some landowners are opposed to putting land into public ownership for any reason. You simply may not be able to change their minds, but we advocate that you stress the benefits to the community - their community.

* Maintenance. Be prepared to answer a landowner's concern that the government can't maintain what it already manages, let alone new property.

* Privacy . Landowners may be concerned about trespassing and privacy or about the trail interfering with agricultural or business activities on their property. To address this concern, some greenways use fences and landscaping to buffer private property; others, like the Stowe Recreation Path, literally give the landowners a blank map and let them site the path across their property. (See Fact Sheet No. 4)

* Land Use. Be prepared to explain the concept of conservation easements. Organizations like the Land Trust Alliance and local land trusts can offer you assistance and provide you with information about easements and how other groups have used them.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What is a Greenway Worth?

What is a Greenway Worth?

While there are the obvious physical characteristics and noted health benefits of green spaces, there are many other perks of establishing more of these parks, trails and greenways in your community.

Economic Benefits of Greenways: Summary of Findings

Real Property Values

Many studies demonstrate that parks, greenways and trails increase nearby property values, thus increasing local tax revenues. Such increased revenues often offset greenway acquisition costs.
A. California's Secretary for the State Resources Agency estimated that $100 million would be returned to local economies each year from an initial park bond investment of $330 million (Gilliam, 1980).
B. A greenbelt in Boulder, Colorado increased aggregate property values for one neighborhood by $5.4 million, resulting in $500,000 of additional annual property tax revenues. The tax alone could recover the initial cost of the $1-5 million greenbelt in three years (Cornell, Lillydahl, and Singel, 1978).
C. In the vicinity of Philadelphia's 1,300 acre Pennypack Park, property values correlate significantly with proximity to the park. In 1974, the park accounted for 33 percent of the value of land 40 feet away from the park, nine percent when located 1,000 feet away, and 4.2 percent at a distance of 2,500 feet (Hammer, Coughlin and Horn, 1974).

Expenditures by Residents
Spending by local residents on greenway related activities helps support recreation related business and employment, as well as businesses patronized by greenway and trail users.
A. Residents are increasingly spending vacations closer to home, thus spending increasing am ounts of vacation dollars within the boundaries of the state (NPS 1990).
B. In 1988, recreation and leisure was the third largest industry in Califoraia. More than $30 billion is spent each year by Californians on recreation and leisure in their state. This amounts to 12 percent of total personal consumption (California Department of Parks and Recreation, 1988).

Commercial Uses
Greenways often provide business opportunities, locations and resources for commercial activities such as recreation equipment rentals and sales, lessons, and other related businesses.
A. Along the lower Colorado River in Arizona, 13 concessionaires under permit to the Bureau of Land Management generate more than $7.5 million annually, with a major spinoff effect in the local economy (Bureau of Land Management, 1987).
B. Golden Gate National Recreation Area has contracts with ten primary concessionaires. Total 1988 gross revenues for these concessionaires were over $16 million, over 25 percent of which was spent on payroll (NPS, 1990).

Greenways are often major tourist attractions which generate expenditures on lodging, food, and recreation related services. Moreover, tourism is Maryland's second largest and most stable industry, and is projected to become its largest.
A. A poll conducted by the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors found that natural beauty was the single most important criterion for tourists in selecting outdoor recreation sites (Scenic America, 1987). Maryland's Department of Economic and Employment Development estimated the annual value of tourism and commercial activities directly related to the Chesapeake Bay was $31.6 billion in 1989 (DEED 1989).
B. The San Antonio Riverwalk is considered the anchor of the $1.2 billion tourist industry in San Antonio, Texas. A user survey concluded that the Riverwalk is the second most important tourist attraction in the state of Texas (NPS 1990).
C. The Governor's Committee on the Environment reported in 1988 that the governors of five New England states officially recognized open space as a key element in the quality of life in their region. They credited that quality of life with bringing rapid economic growth and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry to the region (Governor's Committee on the Environment, 1988).

Agency Expenditures
The agency responsible for managing a river, trail or greenway can help support local businesses by purchasing supplies and services. Jobs created by the managing agency may also help increase local employment opportunities.

Corporate Relocation
Evidence shows that the quality of life of a community is an increasingly important factor in corporate relocation decisions. Greenways are often cited as important contributors to quality of life.
The quality of life in a community is an increasingly important factor in corporate relocation decisions; greenways are often cited as important contributors to quality of life and to the attractiveness of a community to which businesses are considering relocating.
A. An annual survey of chief executive officers conducted by Cushman and Wakefield in 1989 found that quality of life for employees was the third most important factor in locating a business (NPS, 1990).
B. St. Mary's County, Maryland, has found over the last ten years that businesses which move to the county because of tax incentives tended to leave as soon as the incentives expire. However, businesses that move to the county because of its quality of life remain to become long term residents and taxpayers (NPS, 1990).
C. Site location teams for businesses considering San Antonio, Texas regularly visit the San Antonio Riverwalk. A location on the river-walk is considered very'desirable; A regional grocer, the HEB Company, relocated its corporate headquarters to a historic building oriented towards the river (NPS, 1990).
D. The Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress reports that a city's quality of Life is more important than purely business- related factors when it comes to attracting new businesses, particularly in the high-tech and service industries (Scenic America, 1987).

Public Cost Reduction
The conservation of rivers, trails, and greenways can help local governments and other public agencies reduce costs resulting from flooding and other natural hazards.
While greenways have many economic benefits it is important to remember the intrinsic environmental and recreation value of preserving rivers, trails and other open space corridors. Greenways along rivers can help reduce the cost of repairing flood damage and improving water quality.
A In a study of major land uses in Culpepper County, Virginia, it was found that "for every dollar collected from farm/forest/open space, 19 cents is spent on services' "(Vance and Larson, 1988).
B. In Yarmouth, Maine, an analysis of costs of providing municipal services to a specific parcel proposed for parks showed that the annual costs of those services exceeded revenues generated by taxes by $140,000 annually. This was compared to an annual cost of $76,000 over 20 years to purchase the property (World Wildlife Fund, 1992).
C. In Boulder, Colorado, the 1988 public cost for maintaining developed areas was estimated to be over $2,500 per acre. The cost for maintainingopen space in the city was only $75 per acre, or less than three percent the cost of non-open space (Crain, 1988)

Adapted from: Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails, and Greenway Corridors - National Park Service, 1990.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On Greenways and Crime

On Greenways and Crime

So, there's a debate going on about greenways promoting crime and this being a hub for all sorts of illicit activity. More than it is right now? We're seeking to clean up this abandoned space and turn it into something beautiful and functional for the community.
What do yout think?

Crime And Vandalism

Issue: Do recreational trails and other types of greenways cause crime, vandalism and other disturbances? What evidence is there to support or to alleviate the concerns of adjacent land owners?

Facts: There is little evidence to support the fear that greenway trails will produce disturbance to private landowners. In fact the evidence is to the contrary.

A 1980 study by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources compared landowners attitudes on a pair of proposed trails with landowner attitudes along a pair of similar trails already established. On the proposed trails 75% of landowners thought that if a trail was constructed it would mean more vandalism and other crimes. By contrast, virtually no landowners along the two constructed trails (0% and 6%, respectively), agreed with the statement "trail-users steal". (Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources, 1980)

A 1987 study of Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail found little or no crime or vandalism experienced by adjacent property owners. The study surveyed property owners, realtors, and police officers. According to the realtors, property "near" the trail is significantly easier to market and sells for an average of 6% more than similar properties located elsewhere. Nearly two-thirds of adjacent andowners believed that the trail "increased the quality of fife in the neighborhood", and not a single resident thought the trail should be closed. (Evaluation of the Burk Gilman Trail's effect on Property Values and Crime, Seattle, WA Engineering Dept., 1987)

A former opponent of the Burke-Gilman trail (whose home is on the trail) stated that the "trail is much more positive than I expected. I was involved in citizens groups opposed to the trail. I now feel that the trail is very positive; [there are] fewer problems than before the trail was built; [there was] more litter and beer cans and vagrants [before it was built]." Not a single resident surveyed said that present conditions were worse than prior to construction of the trail.

A 1992 study by the National Park Service of the impacts of rail-trails on nearby property owners found that "a majority of landowners reported no increase in problems since the trails opened. That living near trails was better than they had expected it to be, and that living near the trails was better than living near unused railroad lines before the trails were opened". (Impact of Rail-Trails, National Park Service, 1992).

Comments from adjacent landowners interviewed for the NPS study included the following:
"Vandalism, robbery and safety concerns I originally had were unfounded." - (Landowner on California's Lafayette/Moraga Trail) "I was very opposed to the idea at first, fearing that it would be used by motorcyclists, but I am very pleased with the trail - it provides a safe alternative to using the highway for joggers and bicyclists, and it gives me a safe and comfortable place for my walks." - (Adjacent landowner on Florida's St. Mark's Trail)

"We are a small town and most everyone uses the trail at one time or another. The city of Durango has no bad comments to make on the trail; they all like it very much." - (Public Official on Iowa's Heritage Trail)
A 1988 survey of greenways in several states has found that such parks typically have not experienced serious problems regarding ... vandalism, crime, trespass, [or] invasion of privacy ... Prior to developing park facilities, these concerns were strongly voiced in opposition to proposed trails. After park development, however, it was found that fears did not materialize ... concerns expressed by the neighbors opposed...have not proven to be a post-development problem in any of the parks surveyed. ("A Feasibility Study for Proposed Linear Park," Oregon Department of Transportation, Parks and Recreation Division, May 1988).
A 1990 study by the Appalachian Trail Conference of crimes on the Appalachian Trail found that despite use by 3-4 million persons per year, that there were only 0.05 per 100,000 or I in 2 million. This means you are more likely to be struck by lightning or victimized in your home than as a hiker on the Appalachian Trail. (Source: Appalachian Trail Conference, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The 4 Coolest “High Line” Inspired Projects

Creative ways of incorporating an existing, disused railway into a cultural community greenway will bring such life along the 3.5 mile path from Central to Southern Queens.

The 4 Coolest “High Line” Inspired Projects

LEGO Bridge by MEGX
New York City’s High Line has been such a success – both as an  project and a money-making tourist attraction – that it’s spawned quite a number of Copy Cats around the world (we found 18, listed after the break, but no doubt there’s many  more…). Many, however, are more yawn-inducing than awe-inspiring. The following four projects are notably awesome exceptions.
Find out which projects made the cut, after the break…

LEGO Bridge by Megx.
4. “LEGO Bridge” – Wuppertal, Germany
The colorful LEGO-inspired bridge, painted last fall, is part of an Urban renewal project to redevelop the city of Wuppertal’s old Railway into a 10-mile cycle path. City officials hope it will “reinvigorate the city and increase residents’ quality of life.”
Unfortunately, no actual LEGOS were used in the making of this bridge; the illusion was designed by street artist Martin Heuwold of MEGX.

Hofbogen, designed by DOEPEL STRIJKERS.
3. “Hofbogen” – Rotterdam, The Netherlands
This plan of DOEPEL STRIJKERS to turn an old elevated train track in downtown Rotterdam into a commercial strip and elevated park, has an ingenious twist. The plan integrates city heating into the design: industrial waste heat will be used to warm the pre-war buildings along its trajectory, radically reducing their CO2 footprint.

The Transbay Center Project in San Francisco hopes to transform the Transbay Terminal with an extensive rooftop park.
2. “Transbay Transit Center” – San Francisco, California
Once a bustling train station, the Transbay Transit Center has been in a slow demise since WW2. Even though it’s been reconstituted as a bus terminal, the facility no longer serves much purpose in the community.
The proposed idea will retrofit the old, outdated building and turn it into a new high-speed rail terminus – but above the terminal is the real show-stopper. The 5.4 acre elevated park, designed by Pelli Clark Pelli Architecture, will incorporate cafes, retail areas, playgrounds, public art exhibits, an amphitheater and display gardens with climate-appropriate plants. It should be stroll-ready by 2017.

Courtesy of James Ramsey and Dan Barasch
1. “The Delancey Underground” – New York City, New York
As the Highline has everyone looking up, James Ramsey and Dan Barasch are asking people to start looking down. Satellite engineer turned architect, James Ramsey has developed a fiber-optic technology that will naturally light and bring life to the abandoned Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal below the streets of . The renderings are positively sci-fi, but if this Kickstarter Project becomes a reality, the results could be truly fantastic.
More “High Line” Like Projects Around the World…

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Greening Vacant Lots Reduces Overall Crime

As Southern Queens becomes grittier, pieces of green that show a community cares, can make a huge difference in safety and how the area will transform in the next few years.

Study Finds Greening Vacant Lots Reduces Overall Crime

Sara Novak
Living / Lawn & Garden
August 11, 2012
Green vacant lots make neighborhood residents feel safer while reducing overall crime, according to a new study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
The study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, found its results by using randomized trial design to examine the impact of vacant lot greening. Two clusters of lots were selected for testing. One cluster was greened with help from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society by removing debris, planting, building fences, and performing regular lawn maintenance. The other cluster was left vacant, according to Science Daily.

Vacant Versus Greened Lots

Twenty-one of the residents living near either the vacant or the greened lots were interviewed before and after the fact.
"Vacant lot greening changes the physical environment of a neighborhood from one that may promote crime and fear to one that may reduce crime and make people feel safer," said lead author Eugenia C. Garvin, MD, a resident in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine onScience Daily. "Our theory is that transforming vacant lots from a space overgrown with vegetation and filled with trash to a clean and green space may make it difficult for people to hide illegal guns and conduct other illegal activities such as drug use in or near the space. Additionally, green space may encourage community cohesion."

Crime Rates Reduced

After greening, residents felt safer and more comfortable in their environment. And it turns out they were safer. Researchers also looked at police reports before and after the planting. Total crimes and specifically gun crimes were reduced as well.
Again, Science Daily:
[T]he research team analyzed police reported crime data from three months before and three months after the greening. Total crime, as well as assaults with and without a gun, was less after the greening.
All the more reason to turn the nation's vacant lots into urban gardens.
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Sunday, September 2, 2012

What is the difference between a green city and a biophilic one?

Totally loving the vision of a biophilic city. Having nature around us is a requirement, not an option.

San Francisco – A Partner City

Friday, August 10th, 2012 | Blog

by Scott Edmondson, AICP, San Francisco Planning Department
What is the difference between a green city and a biophilic one? After all, San Francisco, like  other top green cities (Portland, Seattle, etc.) has many green features. What more could be needed? What difference would a biophilic approach make?
The short answer might be that biophilic planning and development infuse a city with an abundance of nature. As Professor Beatley more eloquently states, biophilic city planning “is about redefining the very essence of cities as places of wild and restorative nature, from rooftops to roadways to riverfronts. It is about understanding cities as places that already harbor much nature and places that can become, through bold vision and persistent practice, even greener and richer in the nature they contain.”
However, it is important to understand that this restorative abundance is not simply about adding more green to our cities and neighborhoods, although that would occur too. The benefit is more expansive. As the opening text box of this website states, research is finding that “Nature is not something optional, but absolutely essential [on a daily basis] to living a happy, healthy, and meaningful life.”
In a related arena, the path-breaking work of natural capitalismbiomimicry, and cradle-to-cradle design and production stakes out the terrain for a sustainable future as one built on biology as the foundation for the next industrial revolution and economy. Why not use a biologic foundation for city planning as well? After all, nature IS the economy of the planet’s regenerative life support system. Understanding and leveraging those principles would illuminate the new methods and opportunity to increase human economic productivity dramatically. Further, it would do so in ways that would have restorative effects on the regenerative life support system of the biosphere instead of systematically degrading it with every new increment of GNP. If so, biophilic city planning includes seizing that opportunity by extending the circular flows and regenerative principles and processes of nature to the city’s metabolism and economy.
A related initiative, the game-changing, net-zero Living Building Challenge 2.0 (LBC), includes biophilia as one of its core components. “It [the LBC] defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions at all scales,” from room to region. The LBC recently won theBuckminster Fuller Challenge 2012 as a “holistic, systems-based solution that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.” The LBC is scalable. The LBC’s recentLiving City Design Competition extends the challenge to the urban scale. As a result, the LBC provides one framework planners and designers can use now to extend biophilia to the built environment from room to region.
Producing an abundance of nature in this biophilic way will both require and extend a deep appreciation for nature into the culture of our communities. Many treatises on sustainability see such a cultural development as essential for sustainability success. Enabling these efforts with a whole systems strategic approach to sustainability, such as with the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development, would create an innovation platform and on-going learning process for such an extension to our culture, built environment, and economy. The question then becomes, how can we produce biophilic abundance? This Biophilic Cities Project will generate the next step of one answer as an evolving work in progress!
With this larger potential to create sustainable value in view, San Francisco begins its partnership with the Biophilic City Project. During the project, San Francisco looks forward to learning more about the principles and tools of biophilic city planning and applying them to create a higher quality and more prosperous place. In turn, the project will assess and learn from San Francisco’s current projects and best practices, and those of the other partner cities.
The City’s policy commitment to sustainability as an overarching goal is enshrined in the Board of Supervisors’ 1997 Resolution, “to make San Francisco sustainable.” This commitment informs the work of all City agencies. The Planning Department begins the Biophilic Cities Project with the following initiatives.
  • Green Connections: will increase access to parks, open space, and the waterfront by re-envisioning City streets as ”green connectors.”
  • Pavement to Parks Program:  seeks to temporarily reclaim swathes of land and quickly and inexpensively turn them into new public plazas and parks.
  • Urban Forest Master Plan: will be the City’s long-term, comprehensive policy plan to manage the City’s public and private trees to produce open space, health, environmental, and climate change values.
  • Sustainable Development Program:  By coordinating building development and public infrastructure, the program attempts to implement district-scale energy, water, and waste systems while balancing the needs associated with growth and land use. Related projects include the Park Merced residential development, the Transit Center District (a regional multi-modal transportation hub and TOD), the Central Subway Corridor, and future neighborhoods.
  • Better Streets Plan/Program:  The plan prioritizes the needs of walking, bicycling, transit use, and the use of streets as public spaces for social interaction and community life. It aims to reduce stormwater runoff, improve pedestrian safety, and increase accessibility for all street users. It includes a web portal on landscaping, bicycle parking, traffic calming, and other enhancements, including needed permits, maintenance, codes, and guidelines for each type of streetscape element, and will produce safer, greener, and more inviting streets.
Beyond the Planning Department, the Department of Environmentdeveloped the city of San Francisco’s path-breaking public and private sector Green Building ordinances, renewable and efficient energy programs, zero waste ordinance, urban agriculture, and a range of other pioneering environmental programs. These programs, and those of other city agencies, set a strong foundation for advancing a biophilic city planning agenda, and agencies can extend those programs with biophilic planning.
Through San Francisco’s partner-city participation in the Biophilic Cities Project, the Planning Department anticipates learning how to advance a biophilic city planning agenda. By doing so, the department will create the larger value that biophilic city planning has to offer for the benefit of San Francisco, San Franciscans, and the larger region.

Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, is a planner with the San Francisco Planning Department. He also  pursues his interest in advancing leading edge, innovative sustainability planning grounded in a whole systems strategic approach with the Strategic Sustainability 2030 Institute ( and the Sustainability Committee of the APA California Chapter-Northern section. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Therapeutic Design and Communities

I'm interested in establishing more healing spaces in our city, starting with Southern Queens.

How Does your Garden Grow? The role of Therapeutic Landscapes in Design

What does landscaping mean to you?  Most likely, not nearly enough.  Too easily, we view it as decorative, a “nice to have” part of a project.  However, as we learn more about salutogenicdesign and the effects of the environment on wellness (everything from healing to better job performance), landscape starts to become a critical element, one which should form the basis of design.  With this in mind, I asked Naomi Sachs, Founder and Director of theTherapeutic Landscapes Network (TLN) to share some insights on the power of nature.  Naomi is a landscape architect and recognized expert in therapeutic landscape design, and part of the Center for Health Design’sEnvironmental Standards Council working on expanding the Environment of Care section of the 2014 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities.  Rather that helping afflicted people to feel less bad, her goal is to use landscape to make them feel good:
Usually, when architects think about landscaping, we think about outdoor rooms or ways to enhance areas like building entries or parking lots. What are your suggestions for getting more landscaping inside of buildings?
Nature needs to be viewed as a part of the built environment.  While being out in nature is best, bringing it indoors with interior gardens, atria, or even potted plants is the next best thing. A great recent example of nature incorporated within the building is the Stoneman Healing Garden at Dana Farber’s Yawkey Center for Cancer Care. Providing windows is an excellent way to allow visual access to nature, which is especially important when people can’t go outside. Allowing for views out also lets natural light in (one study found that patients in east facing rooms who were exposed to morning sunlight did better than other patients), and “advertises” the garden, which then encourages use.  Research has also shown that while images of nature, like artwork or videos, do help people, they are not as effective as views of nature through a window or – best yet - an experience of real nature. Using natural materials (wood, stone, etc.) is another way to “bring nature in” to an indoor space.

In terms of facilitating access to the outdoors, transitions from one to the other are critical: Architects must design to minimize barriers (providing flat thresholds, doors that are easy to open, etc.) and allow for transitional spaces, such as a paved area with an awning where people can enjoy the outdoors close to the building, even in inclement weather, and can get a sense of the space before they venture out into it.

How do you explain the link between nature and wellness?
Biophilia – our innate attraction to life and living things - is intangible, but research is working towards measurable results. The book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being, by the neuroscientist Esther Sternberg, addresses the role of nature not only in reducing stress, but also in eliciting positive psychological and physiological responses.  For example, Sternberg documents how seratonin receptors in the brain, when exposed to positive sensory stimuli, light up. She posits that being outside creates multiple positive stimuli (and therefore more seratonin) because it’s a multi-sensory environment.  You can hear the birds, feel the sun on your face, smell flowers or freshly mown grass.  Being outdoors also enables exercise, and tends to facilitate social connections because people are more relaxed. At the San Diego Hospice, the nurse leading my tour of the facility observed that people shared more about themselves and their situation when outside.

Kuo and Taylor have published several studies that measure the positive impact of green settings in reducing ADHD symptoms, and the correlation of trees in a neighborhood to reduced domestic violence, lower crime rates, and higher self esteem.  These studies show, empirically, that people in environments with nature do better.  Research by Whitney Gray presented at Greenbuild 2011  focused on sick building syndrome.  Gray looked at sick days, turnover, stress, and ability to concentrate; when access to nature was provided, there was a measurable improvement in all of these factors. Debajyoti, Harvey, and Barach showed that nurses who had a view of gardens over those who just had access to natural light, or no windows at all, were better able to concentrate and had less long-term stress. When you think abut the fact that it can cost around $60,000 to train each new hire, the economic benefit of providing access to nature is huge. [Full citation is below]

Maintenance is always a concern when it comes to landscaping- I’ve actually worked with healthcare clients who wanted nothing but grass in the areas they “had” to landscape for ease of maintenance.  What kind of recommendations can you make to landscape skeptics about using plantings?
Access to nature just makes good business sense. Studies by Roger Ulrich, confirmed by others, have demonstrated less need for pain medication, improved patient satisfaction, faster recovery rates, and many other examples of improved outcomes for patients and staff. When you really look at the benefits of providing access to nature, the return on investment (ROI) justifies the initial cost and lifetime maintenance.  Hospitals need to see landscaping as a strategic investment in the same manner they would the purchase of a new MRI.

Sure, a lawn is better than no landscaping at all, but when you consider the benefits of gardens and more designed landscaping, you can make the argument for the cost of maintenance. A study by Matsuoka showed that students viewing just lawn vs. a more varied view that included trees and shrubs performed better. Access to a lawn is often restricted; it may be wet or uneven, and wheelchairs cannot travel on it.  Lawns are best as one element in children’s play areas, since they – especially visiting children - need to run around and blow off steam. [In case you want the full citation: Matsuoka, Rodney (2010). “Student Performance and High School Landscapes: Examining Links.” Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol. 97]. Incidentally, lawns actually take a LOT of money to maintain: They need regular irrigation, fertilization, mowing, leaf-blowing, etc. Facilities that are using alternative landscapes such as native meadows and rain gardens are finding significant savings after the initial investment. And at the same time, they are sending a very positive message about their commitment environmental as well as human health. It’s all related.

That being said, the landscape architect needs to know the resources and capabilities the client is willing or able to put into the project – up front and for the future - and design around that. Your typical “mow and blow” crew is not qualified to handle anything more than routine maintenance, so there needs to be a funding strategy in place for an annual maintenance budget. It’s also a good idea to create a maintenance manual for staff or an outside landscaper to follow.
Some healthcare facilities, usually those with a horticultural therapy program (,  integrate gardens into physical and occupational therapy.  This is a great way to provide benefit to patients while keeping the garden expertly maintained. The gardens at Legacy Health (, in Portland, OR, are excellent examples of this strategy.
Healing gardens can be easy to raise money for because they are “warm and fuzzy.” The institution can also use the space for social events and to generate PR (promotional materials, events, press releases, etc.). The likelihood of assisted living facility resident referrals has been shown to increase with the quality of the grounds.

What is the difference between landscaping and a garden?  Is it only about habitation?
In general, I would say that a “landscape” is any outdoor space, wild or designed, and a “garden” is a designed space. A restorative landscape is simply an outdoor space that makes you feel good when you’re in it. To me, “landscaping” implies decorative elements like a lawn, shrubs, some trees, and is not necessarily intended for interaction.  A therapeutic (or healing) garden is a space designed for a specific population (children, cancer patients, people with Alzheimer’s) and a specific intended outcome (stress reduction, positive distraction, rehabilitation). This is not to say that landscaping isn’t important. Well-designed and maintained landscapes communicate to patients and their families that they will receive a high level of care, and this can happen from the moment you cross the property line.  Even areas such as parking lots can utilize landscape to provide and reinforce the overall image and mission of the facility.

What is landscaping’s role in wayfinding?
This goes back to the importance of views outside from indoors. As a wayfinding tool, a garden stands out as a strong landmark, something people notice and remember.  Plantings - indoors and out - can also provide visual cues or themes for a space.  Again, when well-integrated with design, views to a garden can also act as advertisement for that space.  So often, gardens are underutilized because people (even staff!) don’t know they exist.  Signage can help, but creating direct views to the garden is the best way to ensure that people use it.

Landscape is a blanket term that includes plantings, water feature, site furniture and hardscape elements like pavers and walls. How does your ideal therapeutic garden utilize these elements?
My ideal garden would focus on the needs of the user population (patients, visitors, staff) and would be designed based on evidence, but also with a heavy dose of empathy and inspiration. As with any good design, there are parameters, but we can never just tick off boxes on a checklist. All landscape elements – overall layout, paths, seating, hardscape, plantings, water features – should facilitate health and well-being. Two useful theoretical frameworks are Ulrich’s Theory of Supportive Design, in which a space supports the users by reducing stress; increasing a sense of control; encouraging social support; and facilitating physical movement and exercise. And Stephen and Rachel Kaplan’s theory of environmental preference, which calls for an emphasis on coherence, complexity, legibility, and mystery. I would add that especially in the healthcare environment, outdoor spaces must be safe and comfortable, and should provide a marked contrast to “the hospital,” which is often perceived as a very cold, alien, intimidating environment. Finally, all of the elements should contribute to that positive multisensory experience we talked about earlier to help people feel not just “not bad,” but instead “good.” That is true salutogenic design.

How does this play into prospect/refuge theory in biophilic design?
It is really important to design with this in mind.  People like to survey the space from a protected vantage point.  Creating transitional space like a covered patio at the entrance to the garden is important, especially for elderly people who may not feel safe going directly outside.  Those with certain psychiatric issues, including autism, like to be “read” a space before immersing themselves in it.  Good designs create transition spaces throughout including shade to sun and walking and seating areas, and “nooks” or nodes where people can feel a sense of security and even privacy. 

It’s not unknown for a project to get landscape elements value engineered out due to budget concerns. What’s your advice for architects regarding how to work best with landscape architects and really integrate their work into the design so that the landscape elements become less expendable to the client?
Bring the LA in right away! Landscape architects are valuable members of the interdisciplinary project team [or A/E team] and they need to be included in the conceptual design phase. LAs have so much more to offer than simply “putting the parsley around the meatloaf.” Their site planning expertise can be a great asset to preserve open space, maximize views, create walking paths, take advantage of existing natural amenities, and to create that “healing experience” that starts at the entry drive, not just in some tucked-away “healing garden” courtyard. They can assist in design of the building to maximize visual and physical access to nature, both indoors and out. They can also best address EPA standards and maximize LEED and Green Guide For Healthcare points and help make sustainable measures like stormwater management or green roofs into design features.

It is important to use a landscape architect trained in healthcare design for healthcare projects (the TLN has a list of designers and consultants who specialize in this field). They know the research and requirements for each specific user population; they have the experience in this particular area and so they know how to do pre-occupancy evaluations and talk to the various stakeholders: Healthcare providers, facilities and maintenance staff, the C-Suite, board members and donors, patients and community members. They can be allies in your design efforts because they have the experience, examples and precedents to share with clients regarding the sustainable or evidence-based value of a design decision.

Can you talk a little bit about the book you are working on with Clare Cooper Marcus?  What kind of issues are you looking at?
his book (to be published by John Wiley and Sons in 2013) will address a lot of the issues we’ve talked about in this interview.  Marcus and Barnes’ Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations has been considered “the bible” for evidence-based therapeutic garden design, but it is over 10 years old and has become quite expensive. More recent research, examples of built works, and issues such as sustainability and “healing-washing” (just as with “green-washing,” the “healing gardens” fad is raising some important questions) make this new book timely. Our book will be accessible, economically and aesthetically, to designers, health and human service providers, students and others interested in the role of landscape in promoting health and well-being. The heart of the book will be design guidelines that are applicable to all patient populations and settings, as well as guidelines for specific users (hospice, cancer care, people with PTSD, etc.), and we will be drawing on many examples of built works to illustrate various theories and practical applications. Other chapters will focus on history, theory, and definitions; the design process; funding; maintenance; and more. Clare and I are both very excited, and from the feedback we’re getting, others feel the same way.

I encourage all of you to explore the wonderful resource that is the TLN site. You don’t have to be a landscape architect to take advantage of the TLN as a springboard for your sustainability and evidence based design research or as a resource for finding a great landscape architect specializing in healthcare.  How will you harness the power of  landscape and gardens on your next project?

*Citation: Debajyoti Pati, Tom Harvey Jr., Paul Barach (2008). “Relationships Between Exterior Views and Nurse Stress: An Exploratory Examination.” Health Environments Research & Design Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 27-38.
Exterior views of nature decreased stress and increased alertness in pediatric nurses.
Objective: Examine the relationships between acute stress and alertness of nurse, and duration and content of exterior views from nurse work areas. Background: Nursing is a stressful job, and the impacts of stress on performance are well documented. Nursing stress, however, has been typically addressed through operational interventions, although the ability of the physical environment to modulate stress in humans is well known. This study explores the outcomes of exposure to exterior views from nurse work areas. 
Methods: A survey-based method was used to collect data on acute stress, chronic stress, and alertness of nurses before and after 12-hour shifts. Control measures included physical environment stressors (that is, lighting, noise, thermal, and ergonomic), organizational stressors, workload, and personal characteristics (that is, age, experience, and income). Data were collected from 32 nurses on 19 different units at two hospitals (part of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta) in November 2006.
Results: Among the variables considered in the study view duration is the second most influential factor affecting alertness and acute stress. The association between view duration and alertness and stress is conditional on the exterior view content (that is, nature view, non-nature view). Of all the nurses whose alertness level remained the same or improved, almost 60% had exposure to exterior and nature view. In contrast, of all nurses whose alertness levels deteriorated, 67% were exposed to no view or to only non-nature view. Similarly, of all nurses whose acute stress condition remained the same or reduced, 64% had exposure to views (71% of that 64% were exposed to a nature view). Of nurses whose acute stress levels increased, 56% had no view or only a non-nature view. 
Conclusions: Although long working hours, overtime, and sleep deprivation are problems in healthcare operations, the physical design of units is only now beginning to be considered seriously in evaluating patient outcomes. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

How sustainable neighborhoods could reshape cities

The next small thing: How sustainable neighborhoods could reshape cities

LoDo district, DenverPhoto: Wally Gobetz
Lower Downtown Denver has become the city’s night life hub — and a laboratory for community-level sustainability.

I once worked for a New Yorker who loved to wisecrack that the only difference between Denver and yogurt was that “yogurt’s got culture.”

Looking at the Mile High City’s endless sprawl of lookalike, Anywhere, U.S.A. subdivisions, it’s easy to understand where he was coming from. But in a former warehouse district just off of downtown, an innovative experiment in neighborhood-level sustainability is underway that could show New York and the rest of the country what really rocks the house when it comes to eco-centric living.

The project, and others like it around the country, started with a simple observation: While cities have been leaders in the effort to combat climate change, much of the action within cities occurs at the neighborhood level. “The neighborhood is a geography, a scale that resonates with people,” says Rob Bennett, executive director of the nonprofit Portland Sustainability Institute. “Neighborhoods have always been a powerful and important part of how we view city-building, and how we view ourselves as citizens.”

Bennett is among a group of urban thinkers who envision neighborhoods powered by their own micro-solar or geothermal power grids. They imagine city blocks that operate as single, interconnected systems, saving gobs of energy and resources in the process, and small manufacturing districts where companies make use of each other’s waste streams. Planning geeks call them “eco-districts,” and say they’ll be the next big (or not-so-big) thing in sustainability.

The project in Denver is the brainchild of Living City Block, a nonprofit that adopted two square blocks in Lower Downtown (known by locals as LoDo). Architect Paul Todd says that 20 years ago, the place was a wasteland of boarded up, Victorian-era warehouses. He and his wife (and architectural partner), Kirstin Todd, bought a building in 1991 that was slated for demolition. “We removed the entire second floor and most of the roof,” he says. “We completely rebuilt it from the ground up.”

At about the same time, the city poured money into the area, tearing out a viaduct that once arched over a nearby rail yard and putting in walking malls, trees, and bike racks. Today, the area is the nightlife epicenter for the entire metro area, drawing crowds of shoppers, revelers, and diners even on weeknights. (Eat it, Yoplait.)

Living City Block President Llewellyn Wells says government agencies have put a lot of resources into retrofitting and weatherizing homes in recent years, and an entire industry has sprouted up to “green up” corporate and college campuses — but little attention has been paid to retrofitting smaller commercial space, he says. If Living City Block can figure out a way to retrofit LoDo, it could pave the way for other projects, tying in everything from energy generation and efficiency to storm water and waste water management.
“There are tens of thousands of other neighborhoods like this around the country,” Wells says.

After an initial round of community meetings and design charrettes, a vision of the block emerged that would include rooftop gardens, solar panels, and energy-efficient retrofits. Two buildings — the Todds’ and one owned by the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, an environmental nonprofit — will be tricked out to generate all, or close to all of their own electricity. By the end of next year, Living City Block expects to cut the area’s energy use in half. By the time the project is finished, block-wide savings should be between 75 and 80 percent.

But turning ideas like these into street-level reality has proven to be harder than anyone expected. Last year, the Department of Energy awarded Living City Block $600,000 in energy analysis and modeling work. Workers are now outfitting the buildings with fancy new meters so that the block can monitor its energy savings over time. But the project still faces some formidable obstacles: To fund the actual retrofit work, Living City Block and the owners of the LoDo buildings need to convince a bank to lend them money — a tall order when you consider that the loan will be leveraged against future energy savings, not business profits. “Easier said than done,” Wells says.

The second challenge is equally daunting: holding a group of property owners together long enough to make something like this work. The extensive legal issues that come with this kind of communal investment require some kind of formal governing body, akin to a homeowner’s association — currently, there isn’t one. And then there are simple questions of leadership and attention span.

“They started out strong, with a lot of enthusiasm,” says Paul Todd. “But getting everybody together and trying to think about the block holistically without scaring people about giving up property or development rights — that has been a big challenge. It’s been tough to get people to show up to information meetings.”
While Living City Block has a second initiative underway in Brooklyn, it stepped away from a similar project in Washington, D.C., this year. Wells will only say that local funding was an issue.

But the group’s trials and errors offer lessons for other efforts to green neighborhoods. “We’re pioneers — we’re out there taking the hits.” Wells says. “We’ve learned that there has to be an involved community on the ground for this to work. What we care about in the end are better communities, not just better buildings.”
Stay tuned for more stories about neighborhood-scale sustainability efforts, from Portland to Washington, D.C.

Greg Hanscom is a senior editor at Grist. He tweets about cities, bikes, transportation, policy, and sustainability at @ghanscom.