Thursday, 4 September 2014

CPTED vs MHTED - just how important is mental health to urban designers?

Yesterday I talked with someone who is interested in winning a large public contract. He wanted our input. The scheme he is bidding on has a healthy community focus. He said he had CPTED covered, but it soon became apparent that he had not considered MHTED. In summary, this is what I told him: Crime prevention through environmental design CPTED is a hot topic as city authorities embrace topics likely to buy votes.

However, Mental Health Through Environmental Design MHTED (a term coined by me) is potentially more valuable as it touches on so many more issues that add social and economic cost to our communities. Crime is just one potential negative behaviour associated with poor mental health. Substance abuse, obesity, binge drinking, child and aged persons neglect impact our communities, our educational outcomes and aspirations, our ability to access a decent quality of life.

The World Health Organisation (WHO)  has just published its first report on suicide. Suicide rates have reached the point where prevention strategies need to be looked and and talked about locally, nationally and internationally. Numerous research studies have shown the link between soft landscapes, green design and positive mental health. Environmental design has been shown to be a cost-effective intervention for mental health.

Whether we are designing natural playgrounds for children, community gardens, not-for-profit community enterprise spaces, affordable housing, mixed use planning affords increased social connections. Salutogenic design provides more green space, sensory gardens, a general softer, more engaging, accessible "green design" focus. Positive social and nature connections have been found to be key to promoting good mental and physical health . Where we have attractive, accessible spaces we benefit socially, economically and environmentally.

My book, a new accessible academic text is now in print. Routledge Press, London published it last month and it is now available directly from them, and through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online bookstores. Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Well-Being, discusses the issues and suggests environmental design alternatives. We need to de-stigmatise mental health and focus on design and delivery of truly engaging, inclusive, accessible communities as a win:win for all. 

Monday, 3 June 2013

Healing, Sensory and Therapeutic Gardens

The title of this blog happens to be the title of the academic text I am writing this year. Routledge Press, London, have commissioned me to write the text for landscape architects, architects, urban planners and health care practitioners and students. The book details how we can use gardens for their ancient healing properties. As always I am advocating a low maintenance, sustainable approach to sensory garden design.

Regardless of the scale of the development, whether it is a small inner city residential garden, a public park, or an isolated patch of greenspace we can tap into the healing properties of gardens. When designed for health and well-being, even a humble suburban garden can be a sensory-rich, healing space.

We need to be mindful of the effect of colour. Different areas of the garden can be designed to evoke a certain mood, such that when the garden visitor needs support to feel calm, energised or humbled by the beauty of nature, we can offer those options within a space.

Water is an important element in a healing, sensory garden. As an essential element for life, we are not necessarily aware we need it around and available to us, but on a deep level respond positively with reduced cortisol levels (the stress hormone), reduced blood pressure and report feelings of positive mood and well-being when we have a 'blue view'.

Colour, shape and form are other elements we work with in a healing, sensory and therapeutic garden. Every healing garden needs plentiful seating options. Here the bright pink colour is balanced by softer tones of the planting. Sharp edged shapes are again softened and balanced by the predominantly rounded form of the flowers. The garden, in its totality, promotes the Greenstone Design aim of health and well-being, by design.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Elemental garden

New residential clients have asked us to design a water feature with gas flame. It is to be very much an elemental garden, featuring earth, wind , fire and water.

Their start point is a shrubby native bush-clad hillside outside their kitchen and adjacent to their outdoor dining terrace, in Wellington, New Zealand. Wind is naturally abundant, bare earth and rocky outcrops are all around. This natural gas seep in western NY State is inspiring the design. I love the way the flame is just sufficiently sheltered from the flow of water to coexist.

Sensory garden design using fire and water features allows us to reconnect with nature at a deep level. This client is at the top of his game in his working life so needs to come home to a deeply nurturing environment.

©2012 American Geophysical Union.   

Monday, 14 May 2012

Sensory gardens for sustainable communities

Sensory garden for public health

We have been asked to design sensory gardens to help break the cycle of drugs and violence, this time in a setting for 3-5 year olds, in Chicago. In such situations we need to look at three generations of need. Our sensory garden design must support all 3 generations in a way that empowers them to feel safe and strong. The healing powers of Nature are huge, generous and very effective.

Cost effective early intervention strategies are a key reason why sensory gardens are used in public health and education settings. By using sensory  gardens designed to bring the community in to the setting, adults and children who may be otherwise hard to reach are quietly treated, often without realising that they are.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Sensory gardens for health & well-being

My research into health & well-being shows sensory gardens to be a cost effective alternative treatment to traditional drug-based programmes for a variety of health concerns. Working with the Centre for Sustainability and Public Health in 2012 will allow further research in this important area.

We need to find a way to create sustainable, healthy, happy communities, that do not (literally and figuratively) cost the Earth. Well designed landscapes look to be able to provide the way forward.

May I wish you a very happy, healthy Holiday Season wherever you are. We will be celebrating Christmas with family, spending time in the garden and out in Nature. Remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Sensory gardens for disabled children & their families

I was recently contacted by the mother of a young boy. He is 12 years old, wheelchair bound and gaining weight. His specialist advised the family to get a spa pool at home where he could do daily hydrotherapy.

A spa pool for hydrotherapy could be just that or it could become part of a wider opportunity to engage the senses. Water, especially when it is warm, has a relaxing quality we know from the childhood bathtime-before-bed routine. When we are realxed we feel more sociable, more creative and are more likely to open our other senses.

A spa pool may have been all the doctor prescribed but how much better if the occupational therapist, psychologist and others in the team had got together? If a spa pool can help mobility and combat weight gain, a deck around a pool can provide somewhere for friends and family to gather, to share jokes, to watch the clouds. When the deck's edges are planted with wildlife-friendly scented flowers and fruits, a fresh, tasty morsel can be added to the experience of hydrotherapy. When that deck is connected to a creative route through the garden, under light-blocking planting and out into bright sunshine, past rustling grasses and tinkling windchimes, the sensory garden is starting to fulfil its true potential.

The requirements of a disabled family member will necessarily take precedence in the design of a space. If you look to the wider needs of the family however, you can create something really special, an inclusive space that nutures the whole family. A sensory garden, well designed, will do just that. Greenstone Design UK are experts in creating sensory gardens for disabled children and their families.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Promoting wellness through sensory gardens

As I sit in my office/design studio, surrounded by technology, I know that my health (mental and physical) relies on the view outside the window - the bio-diverse mix of birds and trees and microrganisms that contain many natural 'chemcial cures' but also offer their intrinsic healing beauty. Commoditizing a green cure is difficult, which I suspect is why no one is doing it.

Leading researchers around the world have found and proven the link between health and a well designed natural environment.

The WHO has stated that depression will be the 2nd biggest cause of ill health globally by 2020. We now know depression is largely caused by a disconnect from the natural world and social isolation. Both conditions/situations are preventable and treatable, cost effectively, using well designed landscapes.

Does technology and 'equipment' have a place in this natural cure? Yes, probably, but perhaps not in the way many are thinking.