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.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cities See the Other Side of the Tracks

 “It’s not just, ‘Build a cool park and they will come.’ 

It’s, ‘Build a cool park and connect it to a framework.’ ”


Cities See the Other Side of the Tracks

Ryan Collerd for The New York Times
The Reading Viaduct, an old elevated railway line in Philadelphia. One group estimates that it would cost less to redevelop the viaduct than to demolish it.

The High Line park, built on an elevated railway trestle inManhattan, has become both a symbol and a catalyst for an explosion of growth in the meatpacking district and the Chelsea neighborhood.
Now cities around the country, including Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis, are working up plans to renovate their aging railroad trestles, tracks and railways for parkland. Cities with little public space are realizing they badly need more parks, and the High Line has taught that renovating an old railway can be the spark that helps improve a neighborhood and attract development.
The High Line’s first and second sections cost $153 million, but have generated an estimated $2 billion in new developments. In the five years since construction started on the High Line, 29 new projects have been built or are under way in the neighborhood, according to the New York City Department of City Planning. More than 2,500 new residential units, 1,000 hotel rooms and over 500,000 square feet of office and art gallery space have gone up.
“Cities recognize parks are good for their economies. They’re no longer a nice thing to have, but a must,” said Will Rogers, president and chief executive of the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation group in San Francisco.
The area around the park, sprinkled with small offices under 200,000 square feet, has become a draw for start-ups and creative companies.
“I think the High Line is a big attraction. It’s created a lot more buzz to the area,” said Matthew Bergey, first vice president at the commercial brokerage firm CB Richard Ellis in New York. “Like with any destination, people will come if it’s cool and has buzz.”
Though plans in many cities have a long way to go before becoming reality, a point in favor of reuse is that it can be cheaper to renovate old rail structures than to tear them down. The Reading Viaduct, an old elevated railway line in Philadelphia, would cost $50 million to demolish versus $36 million to retrofit, according to the Center City District, a business improvement group.
In Chicago, where a 2.65-mile elevated rail line slices through four residential areas, tearing down the line would be prohibitively costly. With 37 bridges and large earthen embankments, the Bloomingdale Trail, as it is now called, snakes east to west across Chicago and is simply too big to go.
“If you’ve driven around Chicago, you’ll have seen it,” said Beth White, director of the Chicago office of the Trust for Public Land, which is helping to build the trail.
As with other, similar rail lines around the country, passenger and freight trains have not operated on the Chicago line in at least 10 years. The only traffic most of these lines see is an occasional runner or bike rider, even though trespassing is usually forbidden.
The impetus for redevelopment has mostly come from neighbors rather than developers, because the vision is so grand and stretches across entire neighborhoods. “It’s hard for private development to be visionary unless it’s a large-scale development where you can create a community,” said Mr. Rogers, a former Chicago developer. “Instead, you’re responding to a small site and not a larger community.”
After years of grass-roots work, the Bloomingdale Trail is moving forward after Rahm Emanuel, who made completing the trail one of his campaign promises, was elected mayor in February. Over the next year, design concepts and engineering work will get under way. The Bloomingdale Trail will allow bikes and dogs, interconnect with new and existing ground-level parks and cost $40 million to $75 million.
In St. Louis, plans are in the works to renovate a 2.1-mile elevated rail trestle and turn it into a park as part of a larger waterfront revitalization project. The Iron Horse Trestle, estimated to cost $50 million, does not have a timeline. Organizers hope to have the first one-mile phase completed in five years.
“You have to be deliberate if you want this to last. It’ll reflect St. Louis and be unique to it,” said Susan Trautman, the executive director of Great Rivers Greenway District, a public group developing the Iron Horse Trestle.
Despite the High Line’s visibility and help in showing donors and residents nationwide what is possible with an abandoned trestle, most cities realize they cannot mimic it. The park runs through Manhattan, the most densely populated area in the country, and attracted large sums of money from celebrities.
“The High Line is not easily replicable in other cities,” said James Corner, principal ofJames Corner Field Operations, a New York architecture firm that designed the High Line with Diller Scofidio and Renfro. “It’s not just, ‘Build a cool park and they will come.’ It’s, ‘Build a cool park and connect it to a framework.’ ”
Developers are hesitant to rely on these potential parks as they assemble new projects. In October, Mike and Matt Pestronk pounced on a 10-story office tower next to the Philadelphia viaduct when it fell into foreclosure and bought it for $5 million. The brothers, who had been watching the building for years and waiting for its price to drop, bought it because it was a good deal. The developers plan to renovate the vacant office tower for $25 million and turn it into apartments.
“The rents we project are that it doesn’t happen,” said Mike Pestronk, principal of Post Brothers Apartments in Philadelphia, referring to the viaduct project. “If it does, it’ll help us get higher rents.”
Still, the brothers are trying to improve the area and have done some “guerrilla improvements” to the viaduct, such as weeding and putting down plywood to cover holes, and installing artwork and live video projections on two sides of their building.
Plans for the viaduct are slowly moving ahead after nearly 10 years of grass-roots work. By the end of the year, the City Council is expected to approve a neighborhood improvement district that, among other things, would help oversee construction and fund-raising. As a first step, a small section of the trestle owned by a regional transportation authority would be redeveloped for $5.5 million.
“What we want to do is build the first phase, like New York, and have people say they love it and want to do the rest,” said Paul R. Levy, the president of the Center City District. “We do not need the Mercedes-Benz that they built in New York.”
The city is in talks with Reading International, a public company based in Commerce, Calif., that owns most of the viaduct.
James Corner’s firm is riding his New York success to other cities, even if their projects only marginally resemble the High Line. In Seattle, an old elevated highway that runs along the waterfront and is at risk of collapse during an earthquake will be torn down and replaced with a series of parks, open areas and new transit. Traffic will be routed away from the area. Final designs and a cost estimate will be ready by the middle of next year.
“We weren’t hiring them to come to Seattle to recreate the High Line,” said Steve Pearce, the project manager of Waterfront Seattle, a civic partnership. Our effort is to create a new front porch for the city, a social mixing chamber.”
Atlanta also hired Mr. Corner to help redevelop a 22-mile rail corridor encircling the city. In the next 25 years, Atlanta plans to add 1,300 acres of parks and green spaces, public transit and trails along the necklace, increasing Atlanta green space by nearly 40 percent. The project’s cost is put at $2.8 billion.
“The High Line is a park, and they made a conscious decision not to interact with private development,” said Ethan Davidson, a spokesman for the Atlanta BeltLine, as the rail corridor is known. “Atlanta is the kind of city where one project can transform a city. This very much knits the city together.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 2, 2011
An earlier version of this article did not mention Diller Scofidio and Renfro, designers of the High Line project in Manhattan.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Communities Learn the Good Life Can Be a Killer

We need to do something about this by creating more public spaces and more mass transit.

“When there is nearly nothing within walking distance to interest a young person and it is near-lethal to bicycle, he or she must relinquish autonomy — a capacity every creature must develop just as much as strength and endurance.” 

Communities Learn the Good Life Can Be a Killer

ACTIVE ANTIDOTE Atlanta transformed an old rail corridor into a trail network that encourages walking and biking.Christopher T. MartinACTIVE ANTIDOTE Atlanta is transforming an old rail corridor into a trail network that encourages walking and biking.
Developers in the last half-century called it progress when they built homes and shopping malls far from city centers throughout the country, sounding the death knell for many downtowns. But now an alarmed cadre of public health experts say these expanded metropolitan areas have had a far more serious impact on the people who live there by creating vehicle-dependent environments that foster obesity, poor health, social isolation, excessive stress and depression.
As a result, these experts say, our “built environment” — where we live, work, play and shop — has become a leading cause of disability and death in the 21st century. Physical activity has been disappearing from the lives of young and old, and many communities are virtual “food deserts,” serviced only by convenience stores that stock nutrient-poor prepared foods and drinks.
According to Dr. Richard J. Jackson, professor and chairman of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, unless changes are made soon in the way many of our neighborhoods are constructed, people in the current generation (born since 1980) will be the first in America to live shorter lives than their parents do.
Although a decade ago urban planning was all but missing from public health concerns, a sea change has occurred. At a meeting of the American Public Health Association in October, Dr. Jackson said, there were about 300 presentations on how the built environment inhibits or fosters the ability to be physically active and get healthy food.
In a healthy environment, he said, “people who are young, elderly, sick or poor can meet their life needs without getting in a car,” which means creating places where it is safe and enjoyable to walk, bike, take in nature and socialize.
“People who walk more weigh less and live longer,” Dr. Jackson said. “People who are fit live longer. People who have friends and remain socially active live longer. We don’t need to prove all of this,” despite the plethora of research reports demonstrating the ill effects of current community structures.
The Price of Progress
“We’ve become the victims of our own success,” Dr. Jackson said of the public health mission that cleared cities of congested slums. “By living far from where we work, we reduced crowding and improved the quality of our air and water, which drove down rates of infectious disease.” But as people have moved farther and farther from where they work, shop and socialize, the rates of chronic diseases have soared.
Public transportation has not kept pace with the expansion of suburbs and exurbs. Nor are there enough sidewalks, nearby parks and safe places to walk, cycle or play outdoors in many, if not most, towns. Parents spend hours in cars getting to and from work; children are bused or driven to and from school; and those who can’t drive must depend on others to take them everywhere or risk becoming socially isolated.
In 1974, 66 percent of all children walked or biked to school By 2000, that number had dropped to 13 percent.
“Children who grow up in suburbia can’t meet their life needs without getting a ride somewhere,” Dr. Jackson said. “The average teen in suburbia says it’s boring.”
His new book, “Designing Healthy Communities,” a companion piece to a coming public television series, says: “When there is nearly nothing within walking distance to interest a young person and it is near-lethal to bicycle, he or she must relinquish autonomy — a capacity every creature must develop just as much as strength and endurance.” The book was written with Stacy Sinclair, director of education at the Media Policy Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
“We’ve engineered physical activity out of children’s lives,” Dr. Jackson said in an interview. “Only a quarter of the children in California can pass a basic fitness test, and two in seven volunteers for the military can’t get in because they’re not in good enough physical condition.”
The health consequences, he said, are terrifying. Not only are Americans of all ages fatter than ever, but also growing numbers of children are developing diseases once seen only in adults: Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and fatty livers.
Can Our Suburbs Be Saved?
The four-part series that Dr. Jackson developed with the documentary producers Dale Bell and Harry Wiland, to be broadcast in the spring, highlights changes being made in forward-thinking communities — changes that foster better physical and mental health by redesigning the built environment.
“Health happens in neighborhoods, not doctors’ offices,” Dr. Jackson states in one of the programs.
Metropolitan Atlanta, which is 8,000 square miles and growing and where workers drive an average of 66 miles a day, has suffered the ill effects of high ozone levels, few sidewalks and bike lanes, and crosswalks as much as a mile apart. In what may be the crown jewel in environmental restructuring for better health, the city plans to create an urban paradise from an abandoned railroad corridor over the next two decades, with light rail and 22 miles of walking and biking trails.
In Lakewood, Colo., an abandoned shopping mall (a blight now rampant in suburbia) was converted into housing, businesses and play areas.
Syracuse is converting an old saltworks district into a mixed-income, energy-smart housing and business area, giving residents easy access to work and recreation. The local supermarket, Nojaim’s, offers health and nutritionclasses and weekly health checks, and a mobile farmers’ market serves an area that lacks grocery stores.
Another jewel in environmental restructuring is Elgin, Ill., where an island park was created in the middle of the rejuvenated Fox River and a formerSuperfund site known as auto dealers’ row is now Festival Park, giving families a place to gather for water play, picnics and musical performances. A Bikeway Master Plan will eventually connect all the neighborhoods, and easy access to the river has spurred investment.
“For every dollar the city has spent, we have leveraged that into two or three dollars of private investment through new kinds of buildings, row houses and businesses that have opened because the river has a magnetic quality,” said a former mayor of Elgin, Ed Schock. He might have added another economic benefit: the prospect of lower health care costs.
Further information on healthier communities can be found

Friday, August 10, 2012

Our Potential Park Somewhat in the Sky

We have a ways to go, but we're making progress!

Architecture, NEW YORK, Transit, Urban Exploration — July 25, 2012 10:29 am

Exploring QueensWay, An Abandoned High Line in Queens

What may become the city’s next elevated, 3.5-mile long pedestrian and bike path, now named the QueensWay, is still very much just another ghost of the New York’s past. Yet a short walk down a portion of it in its current, rawest state reveals that it can be just as enchanting as even the city’s most delicately planned parks. Until QueensWay, the surroundings of these tracks are at once history, nature, vandalism, and working- and middle-class single-family homes. Told you New York had it all.
The tracks of the former Rockaway Beach branch of the LIRR (or, less formally, the White Pot Junction line) tear down the center of Queens—starting at Rego Park going toward Howard Beach—and then hang east on trestles toward the Rockaways. It was possible, then, for some residents of Queens to get to Penn Station in half an hour, give or take. As nice (an currently unimaginable) as it was, the point was not convenience to Midtown Manhattan, but the beach, another half hour going the other direction. In a recent Queens Gazette column, Gregory Bresiger breaks down what was apparently quite a scenic route:
By 1881, it linked up with the LIRR’s Atlantic Avenue branch at Woodhaven. Those going on to the Rockaways transferred at Ozone Park. Just a half mile or so beyond Ozone Park, the service continued to Rockaway Park or on to the LIRR’s other branch on the peninsula, which terminated at Far Rockaway.
Until the line fell to infrastructural and financial burden about fifty years ago, the independently operated line carried passengers from central and southern Queens to and from Ozone Park. Part of the line was absorbed as part of the A train in 1956 and is now the southern terminus of the potential QueensWay. (Apparently, the Ozone Park stop can still be seen from Lefferts Boulevard just past the 102nd Street stop.) Another section lives on as a part of the LIRR’s Rockaway Beach branch, originally going from Glendale to Rockaway Park.
The tracks, mostly quite visible, never quite left the radar of those who either grew up or around them, or in homes that were constructed right next to them after the line was abandoned. And now it’s slated to be one of innumerable projects around the world whose hopes of turning old infrastructure into functional, well-designed public space had been realized thanks in part to the completion of the High Line. The Trust for Public Landhas announced a partnership with Friends of the QueensWay and the City of New York—who now own the trestles and land underneath the—to produce a feasibility study, cost estimates, and programming to solicit community input. Until then, this abandoned New York City asset can still be viewed in its most exciting state—one that reflects the city’s unrelenting eye for unbridled, trash-into-treasure potential.
If you haven’t seen the third section of the High Line in its raw state, check it out before it’s turned into a park.

It's Officially an Epidemic!

What Can We Say? It's The Hottest Trend In Public Spaces!

Everybody Wants a High Line

With the success of the High Line park in New York City, it seems almost every city now wants one. Toronto has long been batting around ideas for its Gardiner expressway, while Los Angeles is trying to dream up the money for new parks to cap old freeways. Philadelphia is moving forward with reusing parts of its old rail infrastructure at the Reading Viaduct, while Chicago has already created plans for its own High Line: the Bloomingdale Trail. Now, London wants to get in on the game, with the launch of a new international design competition to create some ideas for an British High Line.
Sponsored by the The Landscape Institute, Garden Museum, and the Mayor of London, A High Line for London: Green Infrastructure ideas competition for a new London landscape is clearly inspired by NYC’s recent success story, which they argue “transcended the commonly-accepted role of urban parks to become one of the world’s most popular landmark.”
Still, they say they don’t want to copy the High Line exactly: “The judges are looking for proposals which similarly engage communities with green infrastructure. Green infrastructure is the network of open and green spaces, including features like green roofs, designed and managed to provide benefits such as flood management, urban cooling, green transport links and ecological connectivity – an approach which can have a huge and exciting impact on the way in which we live in the capital.”
Judges include High Line founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond; landscape architects Kim Wilkie and Johanna Gibbons; Matthew Pencharz, Environment Advisor to the Mayor of London; and Dr Penelope Curtis, Director of Tate Britain.
The winning team will get £2,500 and the runner-up £500 as prize money. The finalists will also be displayed in the Garden Museum.
Also, read more about the “real” High Line effect in a recent op-ed in The Huffington Post by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) president, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA. Birnbaum says that instead of trying to copy the High Line in an effort to spur economic development and boost tourism, cities should understand that a unique set of circumstances led to the High Line in Chelsea. “In fact, the ‘High Line effect’ should be viewed more broadly as a holistic approach to urban design that suggests how to transform existing urban landscapes to meet contemporary needs. The High Line was almost magically reawakened by a team of landscape architects, architects, horticulturalists, engineers and others, led by James Corner Field Operations. What really happened there is, first and foremost, a triumph of historic preservation and design.”
Image credit: High Line. 2010 ASLA Professional General Design Award / copyright Iwan Baan.