Pre-Conference Workshop, Urban Health, Xiamen, China

Date& Time: 5.11.2019, 9am
Location: School of Architecture and Civil Engineering (SACE 5), Xiamen University, #182 Da Xue Road,  Xiamen, China

With the growing interest among researchers, practitioners, and urban decision makers in the influence of the quality of the built environment on peoples’ health, there is increasing emphasis on using scientific knowledge to inform urban design, including methods of neuroscience. Current development of the
technology permits to study the brain response of people in-situ, using the wireless portable electroencephalography (EEG) devices.

Studies leveraging on the knowledge on the design theory, and affective neuroscience are part of emerging area of evidence-based design. It is of NeuroLandscape mission to advance the knowledge on this topic and promote use of rigorous scientific experimental designs in various contexts around the globe. This would allow replication of experiments while advancing the knowledge on causal relationships between the quality of living environments and mental health outcomes from the passive exposures to them.

We are hosting a 3 hour,  hands-on workshop

Application of neuroscience in urban planning and design. An introduction to the theory and practice of EEG experiment design, data collection, and analysis

Workshop program:
9:30 – Registration
9:45 – Introduction to EEG
10:00 – Experiments design in an urban context (theory + practical exercise)
11:00 – Equipment and data acquisition (theory + demo)
12:00 – Q&A session

The workshop is free of charge for the conference delegates. You can register here


Elizabeth & Nona Evans Restorative Garden, a Garden for Contemplation

I have recently found a great piece of literature about designing urban gardens for well-being. “Restorative commons: Creating health and well-being through urban landscapes” by Campbell, Lindsay; Wiesen, Anne published in 2009 under USDA – Forest Service.

Here is the link to the online resource – available free pdf version!

What specifically caught my attention there is the description of the case example of the Elizabeth & Nona Evans Restorative Garden in Cleveland, a winner of a design charrette. Part of this design is a Garden for Contemplation, inviting specifically the elderly and persons with disabilities

The space is easy to comprehend and inviting to first-time visitors who discover smaller
more private spaces within. This verdant, quiet garden is gracious and
welcoming. It is lush; its colors calm and serene. The design reflects
the proportion, scale, and fine detailing of the adjacent handsome
modern limestone library

It is beautifully designed with consideration of all aspects of a contemplative model. One interesting aspect is that it contains poems in Braille’s language

The height of the pool in relation to the adjacent path was carefully considered to allow visitors to see
reflections of trees and sky whether sitting or standing. Behind it a fountain flows from the top of the low wall into a basin.

I encourage everyone to have a look at this chapter, and others, that bring the best available knowledge about the landscape design for Health and Well-being!

[simple author]

Where Government Listens to Scientists: Urban Sustainability R&D Congress, Singapore

Singapore is one of the most prominent examples of Urban Sustainability through new technologies, research and development. It is also one of the few countries where the government is actively supporting science and innovation in order to inform the practice of urban design and solve urban living issues. The Urban Sustainability R&D Congress is organized since 2011, biannually, and invites all R&D projects pursued by Government agencies, collaborating with local and international research institutions.

One of the keynote speakers, Dr Elsa Arcaute from UCL, a researcher of Cities as Complex Systems, when asked by a panel moderator, Dr Cheong Koon Hean  (CEO of Housing & Development Board) what advice does she have for Singapore, she answered to just continue what Singapore was already doing. She mentioned that she as a researcher is used to “begging” urban decision-makers to look at the results of her work. In Singapore, authorities are not only interested to hear researchers out but also keen to fund the applicable research.

Congress is a national platform for government agencies, research community and industries to come together to discuss R&D responses for urban solutions and sustainability. The exhibition is also a showcase of the most interesting solutions and research in progress. Everything is presented with typical to Singapore care to impress all the visitors.

Singapore has been striving to balance economic growth with a high quality of life and care for the environment. As a result, it has to deal with many challenges, including the growing burden of mental health disorders and the aging population. These challenges were recognized and addressed at the Congress through a “Greater Sustainability Track”,  which shared the benefits of adopting sustainable and biophilic design ideas, provide behavioural and technological insights to aid the creation of a high-quality living environment. On this track the preliminary study of Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, President of NeuroLandscape was presented, you can watch her speech on our youtube channel!

Photos: 1. Punggol Digital District https://www.jtc.gov.sg/industrial-land-and-space/Pages/punggol-digital-district.aspx , 2.& 3. A.O.G


Heidi’s Syndrome or Nature-Deficit Disorder

Heidi’s Syndrome is known also as ‘nature-deficit disorder’; a term coined by an American author and activist Richard Louv to describe “the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.”  While it is not a formal diagnosis, it reflects a medical jargon that is weaving its way to describe things parents knew since forever, kids are happier when they spend some time outside and less so when they’ve been indoors too much.

But why Heidi’s Syndrome? For those who didn’t grow up with the company of a young girl from the Swiss Alps, this analogy means nothing. Heidi is a character from a children’s book by Johanna Spyri written in 1880, later turned into various cartoons and movies, such as the classic one with Shirley Temple (1937). Heidi is a little girl who leads an idyllic life in the valleys of Swiss Alps, surrounded by the mountains and very much in contact with nature. However, as an orphan, she then moves to the city of Frankfurt to join her aunt who works there. And this is where things start to go not so well for Heidi and she seems a shadow of a girl she was in the mountain village, depressed and longing for the lush pastures and her home village (and of course the people she loves most). Also, when Klara, a wheelchair-bound little girl Heidi befriends in Frankfurt spends the summer in Heidi’s village, she almost miraculously gets stronger and starts walking again. The story paints a curious dichotomy of urban setting being depressing and crippling and rural setting being healing and joyful.

So what have we learned since Heidi’s times? Researchers are still investigating just how exactly our lack of contact with nature affects our health, both physical and mental and the results are scary on the one hand, but hopeful on the other. When it comes to children, research suggests they spend about only half the time outside in comparison to their parents, anywhere from 7 to only 4 hours a week (Francis 2018). This results in more child obesity, mental illnesses such as depression, lower concentration and learning abilities, lack of social skills, among others, like for instance short-sightedness (Williams 2018, p. 6). And while before it seemed natural that children spent their time outside, nowadays both parents and children need a little push and encouragement to actually get outside and play.

But of course, it’s not only a kid-related issue. We all need to get some ‘vitamin N’, aka spend time in nature. We should think about it as recharging our body and mind’s internal batteries, but also as unplugging from social media and the hustle of everyday life. The effects of an hour’s walk in the woods, while practicing mindfulness and taking in the landscape, can last about a month! This means lower blood pressure, better mood and sleep, and better productivity at work (Li 2018). For children, spending about 3 hours a day outdoors is thought to be optimal for their overall development. What is even more encouraging is that growing up being surrounded by nature protects children long-term and makes them more resilient to mental illness as adults (Engemannet al. 2019).

As Louv rightly points out, even though the biophilia hypothesis is based on our biological needs, our yearning to be one with nature is also a spiritual one (Louv 2016). Nowadays, as the collective awareness about the benefits of reconnecting with nature is on the rise, we can see more research and literature on the topic. The year 2019 has already been marked by another young girl, this time an activist for the planet Earth, Greta Thunberg. There are also many more outdoor kindergartens, where children spend the entire day outside, in all weather. We are also seeing more organisations that promote and educate parents, children, and other 'stakeholders' in the importance of being in touch with nature in childhood and beyond, like the #nochildleftinside movement that mirrors the US national 'No Child Left Behind' Act or local NGOs like Kraków-based  'Dzieci w Naturę'. The movement of forest bathing or the Japanese art of ‘shinrin-yoku’ is also getting more attention from the general public. All in all, for those searching for the antidote for the ills of indoor-itis and Heidi’s Syndrome, all it takes is getting out of the house and into nature every, and that means EVERY, SINGLE, day.

Louv recalls an old Jewish story that builds on the idea of spending time in nature being a time for our senses and also for our souls: “The child of a certain rabbi used to wander in the woods. At first his father let him wander, but over time he became concerned.” One day, he said to his son, ‘“You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods. I wonder why you go there?’ The boy answered, ‘I go there to find God.’ ‘That is a very good thing,’ the father replied gently. ‘I am glad you are searching for God. But, my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?’ ‘Yes,’ the boy answered, ‘but I’m not.’” Perhaps it is a bit of an overstatement, but really, taking our children outside can literarily change their little worlds and the future of our planet, because if we let children into the forest (or a meadow or a park for that matter), they will become adults who will protect it (Li 2018).

P.S. If you’re curious how Heidi’s story ends, it is a happy ending as she gets to be close to her grandfather and nature back in the Alps.


Aarhus University (2018) Being surrounded by green space in childhood may improve mental health of adults, [press release], 28 Feb, available: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-02/au-bsb022019.php

Francis, G. (2018) “Kids spend just ONE HOUR a day outdoors but two hours staring at screen”, The Mirror, 15 Jul, available: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/kids-spend-just-one-hour-12923237

Engemann,K. Bøcker Pedersen, C., Arge, L., Tsirogiannis, C., Mortensen, P.B, and Svenning, J-S. (2019) “Residential green space in childhood is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood”, PNAS, 116 (11), 5188-5193. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1807504116

Li, Qing (2018) Shinrin-yoku. The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing, London: Penguin Random House.

Louv, R. (2009) No More "Nature-Deficit Disorder",Psychology Today(online), 28 Jan, available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/people-in-nature/200901/no-more-nature-deficit-disorder

Louv, R. (2016) ‘Vitamin N for the soul’, Tikkun, 31(4): 58-61.

Williams, F. (2017) The Nature Fix, New York: Norton &  Co.

Environmental Ambassadors

Neuromyths in education

If you’ve ever played the Chinese whispers game, you know it that the original message gets distorted by the time it reaches the final player with often hilarious effects. However, when it comes to research and neuroscience, the result of passing on information through various persons may not be as funny and innocent as an all-time-favourite game. Neuromyths are already gaining their way into different disciplines such as education and unfortunately doing quite well among teachers, as recent research suggests.

Over a decade ago, the OECD published a report about the importance of breakthroughs in brain science informing other disciplines, such as education (OECD 2002). The report also identified the danger of spread of misbeliefs about neuroscience and its relevance in education, which they called ‘neuromyths’ and defined as “a misconception generated by a misunderstanding, a misreading, or a misquoting of facts scientifically established (by brain research) to make a case for use of brain research in education and other contexts”. Since then, international studies have confirmed that many teachers actually believe in these neuromyths and suggested that a red flag is to be raised to stop this trend.

In a series of studies that included several European countries (UK, Holland and Spain) teachers were asked about their knowledge of the brain, their preferred sources of neuro knowledge and tried to identify the most common neuromyths. (Articles to both studies reporting results are open access – see Reference list where you'll also find the Latin American part of this study). The results showed that teachers actually care a whole lot about their practice as between 95% and 98% of teachers were interested in the brain and its role on learning and considered scientific knowledge about the brain very important for their teaching practice. However, only 7% stated they read primary scientific journals, as the rest read popular magazines about science or education or used internet pseudoscientific sources (Ferrero et al. 2016). Interestingly, those that read the actual scientific journals were in fact those which later identified best neuromyths amongst other neuro facts. However, having read educational magazines actually increased the belief in neuromyths. These findings suggest that teachers who are enthusiastic about the possible application of neuroscience findings in the classroom find it difficult to distinguish pseudoscience from scientific facts.

Overall, teachers agreed with 49% of the statements promoting myths indicating that they believed them to be true in the UK/Holland study, and from a total of 12 neuromyths presented, five were believed by more than 50% of the educators in the Spanish sample. The most prevalent neuromyths were

  1.  “Environments that are rich in stimulus improve the brains of pre-school children.”
  2. “Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style.”, and
  3. “Exercises that rehearse coordination of motor-perception skills can improve literacy skills”.

In contrast, the most successfully identified neuromyths (marked as ‘false’ by the teachers) were

  1. “Children must acquire their native language before a second language is learned.”
  2.  “Learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education.”, and
  3. “If students do not drink sufficient amounts of water their brains shrink.” (Ferrero et al. 2016).

The fact that teachers who are most interested in brain research are also more susceptible to neuromyths is rather troublesome, since it may misguide their educational practice. The difficulty in differentiating between correct and incorrect information is a clash between the eagerness to implement their knowledge about the brain in educational practice and a lack of expertise in neuroscience. Experiments have shown that people with some neuroscientific knowledge (having done a short neuroscience course) were fooled by neuroscientific explanations in the same way as laypeople. Only neuroscience experts (having a degree in cognitive neuroscience or related areas) were able to correctly identify when the neuroscientific explanations were irrelevant to the actual core of the findings. Thus, the level of knowledge of the teachers in the aforementioned studies was not sufficient to protect them against the general credibility of neuroscience findings. “When teachers are eager to implement neuroscientific findings, but lack expertise in neuroscience and seek quick and easy solutions, they may fail to recognize misconceptions” (Weisberg 2007 in Dekker et al. 2012.).

Another issue worth mentioning is the commercial value of buzz-terms that pertain to neuroscience. The UK sample of teachers, for instance, showed stronger belief in some myths probably due to the proliferation of commercialised education ‘brain-based’ programmes. Those methods are sold under the vague idea of enhancing education thanks to neuroscience, such as Brain Gym or the VAK approach (visual, auditive or kinesthetic learning styles), but lack robust, scientific backing. Spain is seeing similar trend of new brain science programmes being introduced in schools (albeit more slowly).

Let us not forget, however, that teachers are not the only ones who can be easily fooled. Research has shown that people are actually more likely to believe research findings when they are accompanied by brain images (like this image below) and neuroscience explanations, regardless of their scientific correctness (Weisberg et al., 2007in Dekker et al.2012). “Weisberg found that the public’s perception of a poor explanation became more positive when neuroscience was included, even though the neuroscience was irrelevant. This may lead to misjudgements of scientific evidence.”

The teachers in the studies mentioned here were genuinely interested in brain science, hoping it would inform their teaching practice in the best way possible. However, they lacked perhaps in the depth and breadth of actual neuroscientific knowledge to be able to (1) understand how brain really works and what that means for their pedagogical practice, and (2) to identify facts from myths when coming across neuroscientific news. As per usual, good intentions are not enough to protect oneself from being fooled by the shiny promises of neuroscience when presented with incomplete, altered, rephrased findings that only then can be translated into actionable steps and applications in education and other fields.

What can be done, then? The researchers suggest various solutions to address these findings, such as “enhancing links between research and educational practice, where some experts have started elaborating papers to properly inform laypeople about some of the main findings of neuroscience applied to education” (Ferrer et al. 2016). Teacher training is also mentioned as the place where trainee teachers can learn the skills to critically identify relevant neuroscientific information in their practice. Finally, non-commercial in-service courses can address the common myths for those who are already applying their knowledge in the classroom.

As for other non-experts (including yours truly) let us not be fooled by the neuro jargon and brain scan images, but rather ‘consume responsibly’ the latest neuroscientific news. Ultimately, a decent dose of critical scepticism should protect us from the spread of neuromyths.


Carreira, S. (2018) ‘Eso que crees de la neuroeducación es mentira, La Voz de Galicia,  3.12.201, available: https://www.lavozdegalicia.es/noticia/educacion/2018/11/21/neuromito/00031542825201509389918.htm

Dekker, S., Lee, N. C., Howard-Jones, P., and Jolles, J. (2012) Neuromyths in education: prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 3:429. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00429

Ferrero, M., Garaizar, P., and Vadillo, M.A. (2016) Neuromyths in Education: Prevalence among Spanish Teachers and an Exploration of Cross-Cultural Variation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10: 496. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00496

Gleichgerrcht, E., Luttges, B. L., Salvarezza, F., and Campos, A. L. (2015). Educational neuromyths among teachers in Latin America. Mind Brain Education, 9, 170–178. doi: 10.1111/mbe.12086

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2002) Understanding the Brain: Towards a New Learning Science. Paris: OECD.


Book review of “Shinrin-yoku” by Qing Li

It’s time to review a book that you might gladly keep on the bookshelf as a reminder of the important lesson it teaches about the magic of trees - the hardback edition of "Shinrin-yoku. The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing" written by the very man who could be considered the founding father of the movement, Dr Qing Li. He is an Associate Professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and an expert on forest-bathing and the president of the Society of Forest Medicine in Japan. He took what was a Japanese tradition of spending time in nature, more specifically forest and gardens, as a health practice and turned it into a scientific discipline. And this, we have him to thank for.

The moment the book arrived, it looked like it could take a proud place next to my Meik Wiking’s “Little Book of Hygge”. They are both part of the Penguin Life collection and it shows; it smelled like a nice book should and was a pure pleasure to touch the quality paper pages as I was slowly turning them over. The book is a mixture of rather large font print and many high quality, carefully selected photographs, and a couple of maps, that do not just complement the text but are an essential part of appreciating the book. I don’t see how an audiobook version could give the ‘reader’ the same kind of experience.

One strange thing about the text was its alignment, where it occupies a quasi-column like part of the page, aligned to the left. The key points are then highlighted (repeated from the main text) in a larger, grey font as if they were in a second column. That bothered me at the start, but it’s easy to get used to. There are also inserts every now and then of personal stories of people’s experiences with forest-bathing. They bring a nice touch of showing how the art of forest-bathing applies to the average person.

The book is divided into four sections. The first part explains how the practice of forest-bathing moved from a Japanese cultures’ art of living to a science. This is where hard-to-convince readers might find a good source of scientific facts that prove that forest-bathing is a medicinal practice (there are plenty of references at the end of the book too). The second part explains how to practice shinrin-yoku, giving very practical clues regarding the details of the therapy. Third part explains how we can bring the forest indoors by using essential oils or house plants. And finally, the fourth section talks about the future of the planet, the forests and human health from the point of view of shinrin-yoku. As a bonus, at the end of the book, there is a POMS (Profile of Mood States) test we can take before and after forest-bathing.

There is no medicine you can take that has such a direct influence on your health as a walk in a beautiful forest.

So what is exactly shinrin-yoku and why is it worth our attention?

It is the practice of spending time in the forest for better health, happiness and productivity. The author studied the effects of forest walks on busy managers from Tokyo and it showed that the beneficial health effects can last as long as thirty days and can be felt after only 20 minutes in nature. Forest bathing is thought to not only improve mood and lower stress, but have many other health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood-sugar levels, improving pain threshold and boosting the immune system (increased NK cells count) and help to lose weight too.

Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our sense, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.

How to properly forest-bathe to reap the most benefits?

The author recommends forest paths that are at least 5km long and should take about 2 hours to thread through. However, even a short walk in a city park is beneficial. Think about walking slowly, leaving all distractions behind and trying to experience the forest with all senses, touching the trees, smelling the flowers, ‘ingesting’ the humid air of a dark forest, and perhaps picking some wild berries, drinking some water from a pure stream or making tea from young pine buds.

Another important aspect is to choose forests with plenty of evergreen conifers, as their essential oils is where part of the benefit resides. Phytoncides, or trees natural oils that function as the trees’ defense mechanism to protect from fungi, bacteria and insects apparently also have a beneficial effect on our immune system when we breath it in. What’s more, using essential oil diffusers at home can have the same effect.

If you want to enhance even more your forest-bathing experience, choose forests paths along rivers, streams, ponds or waterfalls. Water helps to ionize negatively the air and bring our bodies to an electric balance, which has an energizing and refreshing effects and which further translates into higher mental clarity and overall sense of wellbeing. And don’t be afraid of going barefoot to get some grounding and boosting the balancing properties of your forest walk.

The art of forest-bathing is the art of connecting with nature through our senses.

The recipe is pretty straightforward and should be easy to apply even in the busiest of schedules and apparently unfavorable conditions. It’s as easy as leaving the phone and all distractions at home and going for a walk in the nearest park or forest. Maybe try to bring the kids along too. As the author says, “if we let children into the forest, they will become adults who will protect it”. Also, research shows that spending time in nature makes us more trusting, generous and caring, which are usually the values we would certainly want to teach our children too.

In summary, the book is an easy, inspiring and a relaxing read. The only problem is reading it at home and wanting to get out into the forest right that very moment! Every now and then a new term/concept becomes a hype and everyone seems to be tagging their pictures just to show how #hygge their evenings are or how they have mastered #mindfulness. Perhaps #forestbathing and #shinrinyoku should be next things to adopt and put into practice. I know I am jumping on that bandwagon with both feet.

Sources and picture credits:

Li, Qing (2018) Shinrin-yoku. The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing, London: Penguin Random House.


  1. Weronika Gasior
  2. Weronika Gasior
  3. andrew-charney/ Unsplash
  4. jake-melara/ Unsplash
  5. jordan-whitt/ Unsplash
watson hockerdesign

Maintenance of green in the city and health

Different initiatives undertaken by the urban authorities can contribute to the improvement of urban dweller’s contact with nature and the nature exposure

These include:

  1. Leaving unmowed areas in the urban green spaces, for developing a small ecosystems for flora & fauna, (urban meadows)
  2. Promoting the spontaneous habitat creation
  3. Leaving the fallen leaves on the ground for the winter (improves conditions of the soil)

These actions, (or rather withdrawing from action) not only improve the urban ecosystems functioning, but also can save some money in the local budget. Most importantly however from our point of view, they improve the sense of connectedness of people with urban nature, by making the changing seasons noticeable, and more pronounced, enabling the observation of the life phases of the plant and ultimately contemplation of the continuous life cycles.

These three postulate  were included in an open letter to the Major of Warsaw, Poland by the local community and proffessionals, and will contribute to the  Greenery Council (Zarzad Zieleni) activities, (see the campaign here ).  Because of the postulates are strongly aligned with the NeuroLandscape’s vision of the city, we support this action, and look forward to positive changes on city lawns!


April – the World Landscape Architecture Month by ASLA

When I went to my first scientific conference, as a PhD candidate, I was surprised that the main topic of the post-conference discussion was about “what is the landscape architecture?”. For more than 1 hour landscape architects (teachers, academics, and proffessionals) were discussing vividly about what it is that what they do.

I found it funny then… but the more I studied and developed in the area the more I understood that the answer to that question is not so straight forward. To me landscape architecture was the only study discipline, which would join my technical, scientific, artistic and environmental interests. Later it turned out that it can be much more than a job. Today, with my NeuroLandscape NGO I know the landscape architecture can literally change people’s life.

Here’s a little tribute to that beautiful yet neglected discipline. Let’s celebrate the month of Landscape Architecture!

“Landscape Architecture is a profession that is unknown or misunderstood as gardening by many. Its value to society is greater than many can imagine and should be celebrated by the population of every town, city, and country….”

What is landscape architecture?


WHO to fund a systematic review about blue spaces and health

In our ongoing collaboration with the EKLIPSE mechanism, together with Expert Working Group from different European countries and representing various disciplines, we are trying to answer the question:

Which types and components of urban and peri-urban blue / green spaces have a significant impact on human mental health and mental well-being?

EKLIPSE is project funded by the European Union, under “SC5-2015 Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials” scheme. It’s goal is to answer the requested questions in the most comprehensive and scientifically sound form i.e. systematic review.  In the case of the above question the requester is the MInistry in Charge of Environment in France (MTES).

While working on the systematic review for green & blue spaces, the group was contacted by World Health Organization, who offered additional funding for separating the blue spaces into a separate systematic review. The offer was accepted and currently we are working on the soon to be released review of the types and characteristics of the blue spaces and their effect on mental health and well-being.

FInd out more in our projects!

expanding brain

Follow the awakening in urban green spaces for health!

Our newest publication  XSection Journal features the process of evolution in perception of urban green spaces in terms of the health benefits they can deliver, through a popular “expanding brain meme.

Check out this short article and how to interpret the image here: