Natural and Cultural Heritage for Healthier and More Sustainable Urban Realms
The first, in-person scientific meeting of NeuroLandscape Team, titled "Natural and Cultural Heritage for Healthier and More Sustainable Urban Realms" took place among beautiful landscapes of the Greek island of Andros, hosted at the local Korthi Town Hall.
Dr. Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo has presented her insights at the session 5H: Green spaces for healthier cities, which was fully recorded and available online:
The Conference, co-hosted by #UNHabitat and #Mayors4Climate, brings together innovative research and science to help cities tackle #ClimateChange challenges. The global five-day virtual #I4C Conference covering #Science and #Innovation partnerships driving inclusive, resilient, and climate-neutral #cities, runned from 11 to 15 October 2021 and attracted over 1,000 city leaders, scientists, researchers, innovators, academics, youth, and business leaders and is open to everyone.
The connections between biodiversity, mental health and physical inactivity are particularly relevant in the context of shifting global burden of diseases in which non-communicable diseases are among the most rapidly rising challenge to global public health. Contact with nature may provide positive mental health benefits, as well as promote physical activity and contribute to overall well-being.
The ASEAN Workshop on Biodiversity and its Links to Human Health in an Urban Context and Capacity Building on Therapeutic Horticulture as an Example of the Links (referred to subsequently as the ASEAN Workshop) is one of the follow-up activities to the above 2018 regional workshop. The European Union, through the Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in ASEAN (BCAMP), is providing funding support to the ASEAN Workshop.
Due to the COVID-19, the ASEAN Workshop had to be postponed and implementation modalities divided into two parts:
(i) introductory webinar (as per current invitation and information note); and
(ii) in-person workshop (tentatively to be conducted in 2022, contingent on prevailing
Expected Outputs of the Introductory Webinar
1. Enable participants to become supporters and active advocates of green spaces and
therapeutic horticulture approaches in their respective cities in the ASEAN Region.
2. Generate ideas and recommendations on the promotion of green spaces and
therapeutic horticulture in the ASEAN Region.
2:30-2:40pm - Entry of participants, House rules ACB
Session 1: Role of Green Spaces on Health and Wellbeing
"Landscapes for mental wellbeing" - Dr. Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo - President and Co-founder of NeuroLandscape
"Case study: Prescribing physical activity in parks in Singapore for improved health and wellbeing" - Dr. Nicholas Alexander Petrunoff - Assistant Professor, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore
Question and Answer - Moderator: Mr. Elpidio Peria, - Technical Consultant, ACB
Session 2: Benefits of Therapeutic Horticulture, a Nature-based Programme
"Contextualising therapeutic horticulture for the tropics" - Ms. Tham Siang Yu Permaculture Designer
"Case study 1: Design and programming of therapeutic horticulture in a tropical nursing home" - Mr. Tham Xin Kai Design Director of Hortian Consultancy and Co-founder of
" Case study 2: A research study on therapeutic horticulture on older adults in Singapore" - Ms. Angelia Sia Deputy Director of Research at the Centre for Urban Greenery and
Question and Answer Moderator: Mr. Elpidio Peria, Technical Consultant, ACB
4:35 – 4.45 Synthesis and Closing - Ms. Clarissa C. Arida, Director, Programme Development and Implementation Unit, ACB
For several years, papers have been published about the positive impact of greenness on health, including some synthesis and systematic reviews. Yet, none of them has so far addressed the question of the type of habitats and components of such habitats that have a significant (and preferably positive) effect on mental health and psychological well-being. This is important in order to provide recommendations to designers and managers of green and blue spaces in and around cities.
The aim of this request was to provide recommendations regarding the design, management, and creation of natural spaces in urban or suburban areas in order to promote the mental health of urban inhabitants.
Final outputs of this work can be found hereand here, and they include:
The share of the world’s population living in urban areas has been predicted to increase from 55% in 2018 to 60% in 2030 (UN, 2018). Every year people move to the urban areas from villages for various reasons. If we try to see this urban-rural migration under the push-pull model, push factors from rural end such as landlessness and poverty, frequent natural calamities (particularly riverbank erosion, tidal surge), lack of social and cultural opportunities for rural rich and The pull factors from the urban end like job opportunities, higher wages, better civic services encourage these migrants. Most of them are low or lower-middle-income people.
Due to high land prices and construction costs, these people cannot afford suitable housing. In rural areas, they may have a house with a courtyard, pond with lots of greenery. It is very hard to get just a shelter under the roof which is far away from the house they used to live in. A lot of slums and unplanned low-income residential areas with poor greeneries, ventilation boom up. People have little scope to take care of their mental health in such settlements. Most of them face severe mental illness due to some social and physical variables including low socioeconomic status, unemployment, impoverished social networks, quality of life, bad living condition, overcrowding, pollution, and limited social supports overall the environment around these people. These variables of the social and physical environment have different types of effects on different age groups, it also varies from gender to gender.
Different geographical contexts – same issues
In a study in India, it has been explored with ethnographic methods that afflictions of the city affecting the emotional well-being and mental health of women and men with respect to gender in the Malvani slum, Mumbai. Mental health issues such as emotional distress, hopelessness, disappointment, demoralization, addictions, instability, hostility, violence, criminality, worthlessness, fatigue and weakness, depression. Poor hygiene and sanitation, subjective quality of life of poor people living in deprived conditions population density, hutment demolition, homelessness, violence, and crime play a vital role in this degrading mental health in slums of Mumbai.
Women face more problems along with the previously mentioned ones such as dual responsibilities of home and work, substandard jobs and pay, sexual exploitation, marital disharmony, abandonment, exploitation of women, domestic violence, the humiliation of women
which creates a great negative impact like depression, fatigue , worthlessness, stress, low self- esteem from menial position etc.
If we look at South Africa, 72% of women in informal settlements have been reported moderate to high levels of depressive symptomology and 57.9% reported very high levels, compared to only 26.4% of women in a nationally representative sample. A lack of access to water, sewage, garbage collection, health care, and other basic services as factors associated with poor mental and physical health in these settlements. The prevalence of IPV in these communities (66.2%) is higher than in the general population (39%). Even in the slum of Bangladesh, 46% of women in the sample tested positive for a UTI (urinary tract infections) which have not only a physical health problem but also severe mental issues.
Adolescents in the urban slums of Bangladesh face more mental problems than other well-off areas. They may have limited chances to learn skills to shape their minds. Thus, non-slum adolescents may be able to feel anxiety when they face stress, whereas slum adolescents may not be able to learn or practice this
highly cognitive procedure but rather vent their frustrations by acting out as they get older. Here also, quality of life plays a role.
Healthy housing – a human right
Most studies are consistent about that housing condition plays a major role in mental health issues. Lack of adequate space, utility facilities, open space, the hygienic living environment creates a great negative impact on the people living in the slum. Though the constitution of Bangladesh declared housing is a basic right. But proving proper healthy housing to people is a huge challenge for Bangladesh. 80% of poor HHs in Dhaka live in one-roomed homes of the latter types (1.2 m2 floor area per person). From the National Housing Policy of Bangladesh 1993, we come to know that housing is one of the three basic primary needs of human-like food and clothing. It is considered that housing creates a sense of belonging and safety for the owner. Even the major objective of the Housing Policy 1999 was to ensure housing for all. It has put emphasis on the disadvantaged low and middle-income groups of people. Then again the goal of the Housing Policy 2008 was to provide proper housing available to all citizens and to develop houses, settlements, and workplaces on a sustainable and equal basis. The National Housing Authority undertook a project to provide 5,472 flats in Bhashantek. But govt is failing to provide housing to this increasing number of migrants.
RAJUK has reserved only 1.2%, 4.3%, and 7.5% of land for low-income groups in the Purbachal, Uttara (3rd Phase), and Jhilmeel projects respectively. Different NGOs are working to provide housing to this low-income community living in an informal settlement. ARBAN, one of the first NGOs piloted a low-income, urban housing project in Bangladesh. By tapping into micro-credit savings deposits and loan assistance, ARBAN built an apartment complex for 42-member households in Mirpur, Dhaka. The apartments were handed over in 2012. Building on success, ARBAN is taking on another housing project to construct apartments for 85 households on a 1 Bigha plot at the city’s Rampura-Banasree area. “Ghore Fera” or similar kind of rehabilitation opportunities have to be created.
People in our slums are still struggling for a better life…
As we can see there are so many policies but not much really changes for people in slums. They deserve proper housing, a basic healthy life with effective interventions for mental health. Community mental health services should be introduced in these informal settlements. Approaches to mental health policy and planning for community mental health benefit to priorities can be defined with local socio-cultural contexts. So improving and monitoring should also be a concern to the providers to slums. Complimentary approaches to mental health research can also be helpful to address interdisciplinary academic interests and practical needs for mental health planning. Psychiatric epidemiology is required to identify the burden of mental disorders. Quality living may improve their mental health. A housing with better basic facilities such as water sanitation, electricity, open space, basic medical treatment, scopes to talk and getting help about mental health is their right to survive in a good way on this Earth.
Neuro-architecture transmits knowledge and technologies from the field of neuroscience into the professions of spatial design, aimed to get better-informed design solutions to promote human and non-human well-being in our public spaces. We kick off with the key findings of our 2-year research project Sensing Streetscapes, followed by a roundtable exploration with the global pioneers from Neuro-architecture. What is the state of affairs and what is the potential of this approach to push improved sustainable well-being, especially in the newly built high-density urban settings?
Frank Suurenbroek - Professor of Spatial Urban Transformation at the Faculty of Technology at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences Gideon Spanjar - Senior Researcher and projectleader at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. Gideon is also a professor of Innovation & Urban Green Spaces at Aeres University of Applied Sciences and an associate fellow at the Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management.
Jordan Lacey -Australian Research Council fellow and senior lecturer across RMIT University’s School of Design and School of Art. He specialises in artistic research and soundscape design
Justin Hollander - PhD, FAICP is a Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. Among others, he co-authored the groundbreaking study Cognitive Architecture (2015)
Ann Sussman - trained architect, Boston Architectural College (BAC), co-author of the groundbreaking study Cognitive Architecture (2015) and co-founder of TheHapi.org.
Davide Ruzzon - professor of architecture at the University of Venice (IUAV), co-founder of the master Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design and member of the Academy of Neuro-Architecture, actively involved in the Architecture Biennale in Venice. Davide also works as an architect at Lombardini22 in Milan.
Stefano Andreani - Lecturer in Architecture and a Research Associate at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University
Michael A. Arbib - University Professor Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, Biomedical Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Psychology at the University of Southern California.
Elnaz Ghazi - actively working as professor (Docente a Contratto) at Master of Neuroesthetics in department of Medicine and Surgery ( Medical Systems) at Tor Vergata University of Rome in Italy.
Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo - President and founder of NeuroLandscape. She has a Ph.D. in Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology from the University of Porto (Portugal) and is a researcher at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore.
In early 2021 our Board Member and Lead researcher Dr Diana Benjumea was selected to join a prestigious Health Leaders Network initiated by the Urban Land Institute (ULI). Health Leaders Network is a platform aimed at sharing knowledge and ideas with health leaders across continents. It gathers professionals across the globe with the skills and knowledge to generate impact and help improve health outcomes in their professional practice with the communities.
Among multiple activities on the 09th of June 2021, the group presentation session features Dr Diana's presentation titled Networks of Nature: Designing for harmonious interactions in tangible and intangible ‘spaces’. In it, she introduces NeuroLandscape and some of the work and research projects she has conducted in different countries aimed at investigating the confounding variables that affect the eudemonic health and well-being of urban residents.
Additionally, she explored how the solutions taken in urban spaces in Singapore to promote health (e.g., green infrastructure) can also introduce negative responses from urban residents that are not adapted to coexist with a more biodiverse urban space.
A conceptual model (Nature place-making) abstracted from our scientific explorations unveils the main underlying social/design components needed to promote harmonious coexistence with nature in heavily urbanised cities.
The fast-paced urbanization and disconnection of people from nature and the current series of lockdowns, contribute to an increasing burden of mental health disease in cities. Researchers have estimated that it is 39% more likely to develop depression when living in urbanized areas as compared to rural regions [source]. Other mental illnesses and neurodegenerative disorders such as anxiety, substance abuse, and dementia are also taking a large toll on the lives of urban dwellers.
The environmental determinants of this phenomenon are most obviously the noise, pollution, and abundance of distracting elements in the space, which keep attention at the mode of alertness. In addition to these factors, there are certain visual constraints and limited contact with nature, which contribute a substantial psychological burden to those living in urbanized spaces.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about the specific mechanisms of why this happens and, more importantly, how to design our cities to not only prevent mental illness but also improve our wellbeing. Several research teams around the world, including our scientists and landscape architects at NeuroLandscape, have been investigating the influence of exposure to different living environments on brain activity.
From multiple neuroscience experiments and cross-sectional analyses, it seems that the quantity of green cover in the city is not enough to trigger a beneficial mental health response. The proximity and accessibility of green spaces in relation to residency is a very important start point to mitigate the mental health decline but does not consistently determine better mental health outcomes. Like in many other aspects of life quality outperforms quantity.
In the era of the color green, urban planners, landscape architects and city managers, lend me your ears! —Do not green cities mindlessly.
There are certain types and components of urban green spaces which can reduce stress levels, restore our attention, regulate emotions, bring back positive motivation, and improve cognitive functioning by just passively experiencing them [our library on that topic]. They include open and panoramic landscape compositions, which allow far-away views into the landscape, but also enclosed pocket gardens inviting for calm relaxation and solitary contemplation. The visibility of natural asymmetry, undulating landforms and a diversified skyline also count towards that restorative effect. Among many other salutogenic landscape design strategies, seasonally changing, lush vegetation, and the presence of strong symbolic features, such as water, play an important role too.
In the endeavor to create liveable cities we have been through several stages, starting with the consideration of functionality and logistics, which was followed by improvements to sanitation, safety, equity, greening and sustainability, and finally led up to a focus on the mental health. The research to support this latest stage is ongoing. However, it is becoming clear that mentally healthy cities rely on the quality rather than quantity of green and natural elements.
With that in mind, nature is not to be visited (like visiting a gallery or animal park) but rather, a backdrop to our daily events and activities. For this vision to be feasible and effective, evidence-based landscape design is indispensable.
President and Co-founder of NeuroLandscape. She is a Ph.D. in landscape architecture and urban ecology, who has explored the relationship between the different features of the natural and built environment’s influence on human health and wellbeing. In her research she has successfully incorporated neuroscience tools to investigate the changes in brainwave oscillation in participants exposed to different types of designed landscape. She has introduced and operationalized the term contemplative landscape and proposed a quantitative assessment scale to distinguish landscape views according to which are most beneficial for mental health in terms of passive exposure. She has developed several research projects worldwide and established international research networks across multiple universities. She is an originator of the idea for the VR_HEATHER project, which builds upon her research and is also in line with the statutory goals of NeuroLandscape.