THE MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH IMPACTS OF PLANNING, DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE
A discussion of what constitutes a healthy community typically focuses on how the physical environment impacts the physical health of community residents. Discussions may occasionally include references to mental health, however, because the metrics and the stigma of some types of mental illness makes for uncomfortable discourse, mental health frequently gets categorized based on local suicide rates. In other words, the healthy community discussion generally ignores how the design of the physical environment impacts mental health.
Fortunately, that situation is changing as more research leads to the growing recognition that the various elements of nature and the built environment play major roles in keeping the brain as well as the whole body healthy. Kicking off 2018, this newsletter focuses on how society is beginning to speak more openly about mental health.
We share some excellent resources below, but first,
the AALC's own Wanda Mills-Bocachica shared her thoughts on this month's topic:
"Revelations of the health challenges associated with mental illness by prominent persons have caused increased public discussions about conditions that quite often are stigmatized and misunderstood. Some suggest that interest and awareness of mental illness heightened with the death of beloved comedian Robin Williams. Questions about his suicide exposed his bouts with bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and loneliness. And, as the mainstream media sought to conceal the causes of death of the beloved sci-fi actress Carrie Fisher, Fisher's daughter Billie Lorde immediately reiterated the "raw truth" about the causes that led to her mother's death, as her mother originally intended: “Carrie Fisher's death was expedited by drug use in response to the symptoms of mental illness."
It is important to transcend the stigmas and silences associated with mental illness by taking a deeper look at causes that may be visible all along, yet are often stigmatized and minimally understood by policymakers and people in everyday life. Hopefully, such discussions will also prompt more empathetic and proactive social, environmental and policy responses to the conditions and challenges of mental illness and conversely, mental wellness."
Green Cities: Good Health
Mental Health & Function
How the Experience of Nature Aids the Brain
In this resource, researchers from the University of Washington share fast facts and extended discussion from multiple studies showing that encounters with nearby nature help individuals of all ages and abilities alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind.
Within built environments, parks and green spaces are settings for cognitive respite, as they encourage social interaction and de-stressing through exercise or conversation, and provide calming settings. Having quality landscaping and vegetation in and around the places where people work and study is a good investment. Both visual access and being within green space helps to restore the mind’s ability to focus. This can improve job and school performance, and help alleviate mental stress and illness.
Improving Public Health through Public Parks and Trails: EIGHT COMMON MEASURES
National Park Service
Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program
Urban green space and public recreation areas, or parks, are often viewed as key factors in increasing physical activity, thereby preventing obesity and reducing the incidence of chronic medical conditions, not to mention improving mental health and overall quality of life. Parks may also improve public health by increasing social interaction, reducing stress through exposure to nature, and more.
Exposure to nature is particularly important. Contact with nature has been linked to a greater ability to cope with life stressors, improved work productivity, reduced job-related frustration, increased self-esteem, enhanced capacity to pay attention, and greater life satisfaction.
The purpose of this project is to suggest common measures for park and trail systems that are grounded in public health goals such as easier access to parks or trails and increased physical activity. Common measures can highlight the positive impact that park access and use have on community health which, in turn, emphasizes the importance of local parks and trails to community decision makers and funders.
Quantifying the Contributions of Public Parks to Physical Activity and Health
National Recreation and Park Association
Being able to show the positive outcomes of investment in public parks is useful for municipal park departments that depend on local funds for their programs, infrastructure, and activities. This resource shares an important method of quantifying these health outcomes - the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC).
14 PATTERNS OF BIOPHILIC DESIGN
Improving Health and Wellbeing in
the Built Environment
Terrapin Bright Green
Biophilic is humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects.
Biophilia may also help explain why some urban parks and buildings are preferred over others. For decades, research scientists and design practitioners have been working to define aspects of nature that most impact our satisfaction with the built environment. But how do we move from research to application in a manner that effectively enhances health and well-being, and how should efficacy be judged?
Biophilic design can reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, improve our well-being and expedite healing; as the world population continues to urbanize these qualities are ever more important. Given how quickly an experience of nature can elicit a restorative response, and the fact that U.S. businesses squander billions of dollars each year on lost productivity due to stress-related illnesses, design that reconnects us with nature – Biophilic design – is essential for providing people opportunities to live and work in healthy places and spaces with less stress and greater overall health and well-being.
HERE IN ARIZONA
Estrella Mountain Regional Park Healing Garden
Maricopa County Parks & Recreation Department
Healing/sensory gardens are fast becoming a place of refuge for urbanites from the daily grind and the stressors that accompany our fast-paced world. Gardens are often green places of respite and solitude that can help to recharge our mental capacity to cope. This healing garden helps re-acknowledge the healing powers of nature that have been known and used for centuries, but have gone by the wayside as western medical advances moves toward technology and pharmacology and farther from the view of treating mind-body-spirit as a whole.
Urban Blight and Public Health
Addressing the Impact of Substandard Housing, Abandoned Buildings, and Vacant Lots
The Urban Institute
"We spend more than 2/3rds of our time where we live; thus, housing and neighborhood conditions invariably affect our individual and family’s well-being. The health impacts from blighted properties—substandard housing, abandoned buildings, and vacant lots—are often not immediately visible or felt. Researchers have even found connections between household disrepair and mental health - specifically, symptoms of distress. This report—Urban Blight and Public Health—synthesizes recent studies on the complexities of how blight affects the health of individuals and neighborhoods while offering a blend of policy and program recommendations.
In 2018, APA’s Planning and Community Health Center and Healthy Communities Collaborative will host a series of webinars to explore the intersection of planning and the opioid epidemic. Designed to share local experiences and national resources, the series is also meant to launch a network of members and peer professionals working to understand the crisis and our roles in it. Register now.
EVENTS & CONFERENCES
Arizona Food Summit
Watch for registration information