Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spaces that Heal

Spaces that Heal

Doesn't it feel refreshing to take a walk among lush greenery? I don't know about you, but I still feel in awe when I look up at trees and their majestic stature, or enter a garden with insects buzzing, colorful buds and petals and smells of pure earthy goodness, nectar, or the scent of herbs crushed under my foot. 

There is definitely something magical about being in a space that offers so much solace and is unlike where we spend most of our time, especially those of us living in urban areas. How many of us have access to parks or public spaces that have more than asphalt, more than a few potted plants or shrubs? It may seem like a luxury to some, but it's something that could very well heal much that ails us. 

Who's up to cultivate healthier, more sustainable lifestyles and communities that promote wellness?

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.

Posted by Angela Mazz

Sunday, January 29, 2012

More Service, Not Tracks

We Need More Existing Service, Not Tracks!

South Queens would be better served with increased rail service on the existing A lines (which wouldn't cost millions or even billions and would take effect more immediately than years down the line) and express or even regular buses that ran frequently and in sync with rush hour (versus questionably) and especially when schools let out around 2:30-3:00PM.

I've seen great service in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and have yet to see it in Queens. It would be incredibly helpful if our buses and trains had some sort of dialogue on what their schedules are like and a dream come true if they actually cooperated with each other, and thus made our commutes much easier, much faster and less frustrating. Waiting for 15-20 minutes between trains at the end of the A line is something that we can more easily upgrade. Toronto does this and I was able to maneuver their rails and buses on my first trip there. 

Even residents of the North side of the defunct LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch  have an hour and 15 minute commute; it's not a "privilege" for anyone in Queens to get to the Manhattan, regardless of where they live along the aforementioned tracks.

I think people need to get real and ride the rails and buses to find the truth about not only traveling by mass transit in Queens, but what would really benefit the community who actually live there and not just for the benefit of tourists, who are only here for short time. 

I would love to get on a bike and ride around my neighborhood and the rest Queens, but the streets of South Queens aren't safe for a cyclist: we have very little access to bike lanes, drivers and pedestrians have very little understanding of the road rules and how to react to cyclists, and safe places to park bikes or make tit easier to take our bikes on buses and trains on our way around this great city.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The "High Line" seems to be replicating like bunnies across the globe!
A High Line for London? 
Not Until After the Queen's Big Boat Party

Thames River Park
By Janelle Zara
Construction of the Gensler-designed London River Park on the Thames, originally expected to debut in time for the 2012 Olympics, has been delayed until after the Queen's 60th anniversary on June 3  due to questions of safety, BBC News reports.
Organizers of the Diamond Jubilee, the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to the throne that involves a 1,000-boat flotilla, feared the pier would affect the river’s tides, posing hazardous conditions to the vessels. Last month, the Port of London Authority reported the developer’s risk-assessment findings that the platform could be "hit by barges.”

It’s "surprising that the mayor of London was able to announce earlier this year that a kilometre-long Thames walkway would be delivered in time for the Olympics, when the mayor and other bodies are still seeking clarification over basic safety considerations,” Darren Johnson, London Assembly Green Party member, told BBC News.

In addition to safety, concerns have risen over more superficial points since the project's proposal, including criticism from government advisory body Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, which urged "further thought" on the design — the group had not found the park's concrete seats and large trees in containers "appropriate to the character of the river." The chief executive of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, which stages outdoor productions just across the river, was concerned about the “noise pollution,” while environmental groups raised questions about erosion.

The kilometer-long "park," which is actually closer in resemblance to a boardwalk or pier, is expected to become a major tourist destination to revitalize the desolate north bank of the Thames River. Park planners project 3.5 million visiting tourists annually, providing a connection to major sights including Tower of LondonTate Modern, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as a strip of commercial venues with caf├ęs and shops. It will be the world's first floating walkway, comprised of floating pavilions, trees, and open space in the western half, and a floating swimming pool and new docking station for Thames passenger services on the eastern half.

The project has has drawn natural comparisons to New York's High Line, a wildly popular park that has done wonders to reinvigorate its neighborhood on Manhattan's West Side, although critics are skeptical the same result could be achieved on the Thames. There is, after all, no such thing as the High Line effect, which comes straight from the mouth of Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architects enjoying the success of having dreamed up the High Line first. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Queens Fights for a High Line of Its Own

Plea for a Public Space

Hello World!

What are your thoughts about a 3.5 mile linear park that would stretch from Ozone Park to Rego Park, Queens? 

Alex Davies of TreeHugger/Discovery wrote about the QueensWay (aka Queens HighLine) and sums up what we (Friends of The QueensWay) are trying to do for the Queens community and how this project received some new life in 2011.

We have about 1,450 signatures and would appreciate the support of you, your friends and community:

We all have a voice and each one counts tremendously. Please feel free to share, tweet, post, blog and tell your neighbor about this project. 

Let me know if you're interested in helping with a clean up in the spring as we're seeking volunteers.

Will you help me make this dream a reality by sharing the petition or article with at least one person?

Thank you very much,

Queens Fights for a High Line of Its Own

Alex Davies
Design / Urban Design
January 12, 2012
Manhattan may have broken ground with the hugely popular High Line park, but if a group of Queens residents gets its way, it won't be the only borough with an abandoned railway converted into a park. The Friends of the Queensway have set their sights on a 3.5 mile stretch of tracks of the defunct Rockaway Beach Branch rail line, which has been out of service since 1962.
While the QueensWay is in some ways inspired by the High Line (and its chances for approval are multiplied by that project's success), it would be a rather different sort of place. Anandi Premlall, a project coordinator, describes the group's vision for the park as more of an outdoors community center than tourist attraction. It would include community gardens, spaces for relaxing and for public events, as well as a bike path.
In fact, the bike path is the original idea that sparked the grander vision. Years ago, the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee proposed converting the railway into a cycling-oriented greenway. Queens has many fewer miles of safe bike lanes than Manhattan, and the old elevated railway could provide a vital piece of cycling infrastructure.
However, the project met with disapproval and went dormant. It was revived last year by Premlall, who submitted it to the Institute for Urban Design's(IfUD) By the City / For the City call for ideas to improve and transform New York City.
The IUD got behind the idea, and the ball was rolling. Local newspaper The Times Ledger picked up the story, and Premlall joined with the group that first called for the creation of the greenway. They discovered that others proposals existed for the railway, including one to make it into a community garden. They all joined forces, and Friends of the Queensway was born.
The group has teamed up with the Trust for Public Land, a national organization that helps communities conserve land for the public good. They are circulating a petition to raise support that now has around 1,400 signatures.
The next step is to raise $500,000 for a feasibility study to look at the structural integrity of the railway line and see what exactly can be done with it. After that, the real work will begin. The tracks are really run down; some parts look more like wild forests than New York City. They're littered with busted televisions and are home to a growing homeless population.

© Anandi Premlall The railway runs atop body shops in some areas.
Nevertheless, Premlall believes the Queensway is a “tremendous opportunity for economic development." It could make the area more popular and safer, and attract small businesses.
The vision of the Friends of the Queensway doesn't look very much like Manhattan's High Line, but Premlall says they have one feature in common: the will to “gather forces and money and create a really amazing public space.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Convention Center vs. Greenway

Convention Center vs. Greenway

What a silly argument: “But I have constituents north of where the convention center would be who are strongly against a rail line or even a greenway. They like the way it is with the growing vegetation, and don’t want that disturbed by people with bikes or strollers.” 

So they are for a massive convention center in the SOUTH (my neighborhood, which is totally unequipped for this) but against a greenway along 3.5 miles that would touch part of the NORTH side of the tracks. 

Hmm...what does that say about whose voices get heard and where money comes from to do these types of projects?

Could Cuomo plan derail greenway?

Convention ctr. might bolster bid by Goldfeder for rebuilt rail line

Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:42 pm, Thu Jan 12, 2012.
Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder figured he’d be swimming against the tide last week when he proposed rebuilding a railroad between Ozone Park and Rego Park, where many are proposing a high-line park.
Then a day later Gov. Cuomo, in his State of the State address on Jan. 4, proposed building the country’s largest convention center near the new casino at the Aqueduct racetrack.
“The governor’s people briefed me just before the speech because it’s in my district,” he said. “I had no idea.”
Cuomo came out in support of a $4 billion proposal by Genting America to spend $4 billion on a convention center and 3,000 hotel rooms.
And he also may have given Goldfeder some serious justification for putting trains back on what was the Long Island Rail Road’s Rockaway line until 1962.
“While I’m a strong advocate of increased park space for Queens, I believe southern Queens and Rockaway would be better served with a railroad,” Goldfeder said.
The city now owns the land and the right of way along the 3.5-mile stretch. The rails, ties, platforms, switches and some towers remain in place, though the tracks and the ground beneath them have deteriorated.
Some portions, such as the trestle across Metropolitan Avenue, are impassable even on foot due to the tangle of trees and brush that has sprung up over the last 40 years.
Many residents and civic groups, such as the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee, are petitioning the city to pursue the project they call Queensway, which would turn the old railroad right of way into a park.
The aim would be to link neighborhooods for joggers, cyclists and walkers in a safe, traffic-free environment.
“I’m sure people in Rego Park and Forest Hills do want parks there,” Goldfeder said. “But then they already only have a 40-minute trip into Manhattan. For some of my constituents it takes an hour and 40 minutes.”
Goldfeder said he has not yet thought through details such as whether to return LIRR service or extend the MTA’s A Train service. He also would like to see proposals for extended AirTrain service, and believes that a convention center would draw investment in rail service.
“I’m opposed to Queensway if it would interfere with a new rail link,” he said.
But Andrea Crawford, president of Community Board 9 and a leader on the greenway committee, thinks the convention center and a rail line may not prove feasible.
Crawford said people coming to a convention center in the city want the ability to walk to restaurants, theaters and other amenities without having to take the subway.
“It doesn’t scale,” Crawford said. “You’re going to build a 2.5 million-square-foot convention center in Ozone Park when people don’t come to the Javits Center in Manhattan? I don’t understand it.”
A feasibility study for the greenway is being underwritten by the Trust for Public Lands. State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) has his own.
“Rockaway has to come into the conversation, and I would talk about service south of where the convention center would be located,” Addabbo said. “But I have constituents north of where the convention center would be who are strongly against a rail line or even a greenway. They like the way it is with the growing vegetation, and don’t want that disturbed by people with bikes or strollers.”