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.
The Organizing Committee and the Spanish Association of Bioethics and Medical Ethics (AEBI) organized the thirteenth edition of the AEBI International Congress that hosted several focused events, including the webinar on ICT solutions for Healthcare. In it our NeuroLandscape VR tool called Eascape was presented to the wider medical and Spanish-speaking audience.
Welcome & opening - Elena Andrade Gomez - Enfermera. Doctora en Salud Pública. Directora de estudios de la Escuela de Enfermería de la Universidad de La Rioja. España.
ENTORNOS NATURALES, SALUD Y REALIDAD VIRTUAL Dr. Weronika Gasior - Lingüista. Doctora en Lingüística aplicada. Miembro del Consejo Científico de Neurolandscape. Jefe de Comunicaciones y Proyectos de Realidad Virtual. NeuroLandscape. Polonia - Singapur.
19:00 - Q& A
DESAFÍOS ÉTICOS DEL e-HEALTH Y EL m-HEALTH - Juan Carlos Oliva, Ingeniero de telecomunicaciones y electrónica. Director de Innovación Sanitaria del Sistema Público de Salud de La Rioja. España.
19:30 - Q&A
FORTALEZAS Y DEBILIDADES DEL E-LEARNING Y B-LEARNING - Vicente Soriano , Médico y Doctor en Medicina. Vicedecano de Investigación de la Facultad de Ciencias de la Salud de la Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (UNIR). España.
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
On Monday 13th September at 11:00 CEST Dr Diana Benjumea Meija presented her research on "The Spatial and Social Components of Community-led Green Spaces and its Contribution to the Health and Wellbeing of Low-income Communities" at the 9th World Sustainability Forum
In the last decade, there has been a surge in projects initiated by urban low-income residents in Medellin to revitalise urban green spaces through pro-environmental initiatives. Urban green spaces in these neighbourhoods are believed to be the repositories of diverse socially constructed and perceived meanings defined by the prosocial and self-reflective approaches of the communities to achieve alternative methods of governance over the territory.
This study was designed to investigate the underlying spatial and social components that emerge after the community-led green spaces are built. Two neighbourhoods in Medellin were investigated: Villatina (commune 8) and Eduardo Santos (commune 13). A quasi-longitudinal mix-methods study was conducted from 2016 until June 2021.
Ethnographic field work, interviews, focus groups and surveys were collected with residents of the two neighbourhoods. The results of this study suggest that there are underlying social and spatial components that emerge after the community-led green spaces are built and these are crucial to forge prosocial behaviours, activism, stewardship, and protection from crime.
Additionally, the active engagement of the communities in self-governed placemaking process creates an immediate sense of place defined by social factors such as ownership, learning, community coexistence, cooperation, sustainability, and ecology. These components contribute to the mental and physical health and wellbeing of low-income residents and creates unique social and environmental values.
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.
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.
Eascape, a new VR relaxation app created by neuroscientists and landscape architects, makes it possible to benefit from the healing power of nature without leaving home. The test version of the app has just been launched, as the whole world deals with the consequences of coronavirus waves and lockdowns. It is not a coincidence. In this difficult time creators of the app encourage us all to start looking at VR technology as an effective self-care tool, ready to reconnect us with nature and ease our minds.
An intensive work on the project started almost exactly one year ago – during the first lockdown. We wanted to better understand people's psychological needs in times of confinement, so we conducted the world-wide survey on this very topic. What we have learned was very striking, although not that surprising – at least not to us – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, co-founder of Eascape, then she adds: It turned out that what we, humans, miss the most in such difficult conditions is, apart from being close with relatives and friends, a deeper connection with nature. The pandemic has shown what neuroscientists and environmental psychologists have known for a long time – that being around green spaces is crucial to our mental health and cognitive processes such as memory, attention or creativity.
We need nature more than ever
If we talk about our exposure to nature the situation had been dire even before pandemic, especially in big cities. Science shows that urban, stressful and chaotic environments full of stimulation increase the risk of psychiatric disorders by 38% as compared to rural living. We work long hours in office spaces, away from green scenery, then we go home, where we often stay until the next day, too tired to go out and have at least a stroll in a nearby park. And even if we are keen to spend some relaxing time in green environments – we often simply cannot do so, since due to the urbanization and biodiversity loss processes we have no longer unlimited access to such spaces. This simply cannot be good to our well-being. We need to take action. We must be mindful of what we expose ourselves to everyday, to keep a healthy mind, help with depression and anxiety, alleviate stress, and reduce the risk of dementias – explains Nicolas Escoffier, one of the creators of Eascape.
Landscapes that ease our minds
Eascape builds on the concept of Contemplative Landscapes, an idea conceived in 2011 by Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, as part of her scientific work in Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology. In her research, she found that there are certain characteristics of the scenic views that can influence the human brain to improve mental health and well-being. Contemplative Landscapes should for example contain a certain landform with many layers, natural asymmetry and the depth of the view.
Being surrounded by such scenery we should be able to observe subtle phenomena such as the play of light and shade, trembling leaves or shadows growing and shrinking with the passage of the sun. What adds to contemplativeness of a landscape are also archetypal elements like a running body of water, a path, an old tree or a big stone.
The space should also carry a character of peace and silence, providing comfort and a sense of solitude. It activates our nervous system and a built-in biophilia – a state that exists in all of us since the time when we were still living in close relation with nature – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo.
VR experience like no other
Eascape is nothing like VR games. It differs even from other VR relaxation apps. Most of the VR apps absorb our attention completely. We have tasks to do, fantastic creatures to meet or new things to learn. All this generates the beta waves in our brain, making our mind work at top speed, and eventually causing mental fatigue. Eascape is not a gaming experience. It works in the opposite way to generate the alpha waves which are characteristic for the state of relaxation and mindfulness. On a daily basis, we have access to such state only through sleep, meditation or close contact with nature – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo.
The app contains full HD 3D 180° videos, recorded in a scientifically confirmed Contemplative Landscape site: Parchi di Nervi in Genoa, Italy. The user is able to hear the natural, relaxing sound of chirping birds and teleport to four locations across the lawn. The environment has been designed in a very minimalistic way, intentionally deprived of special effects or extraordinary elements. It is a place for soft fascination and gentle exploration that calms down the mind. The whole experience should feel as a pleasant mindfulness practice, available at one’s fingertips. The Eascape team recommends spending 10 min per day in Eascape for 2 weeks to see the improvements in mood. A pilot test showed 32% reduction of depressive mood after just 7 min using Eascape demo, when compared to another VR environment.
Healthy VR environments to the rescue of today’s societies
We are sure that healthy VR environments can make a huge change in the way we as society deal with mental health problems – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo. Desire to help those who need access to nature have brought together the Eascape team which consists of people from all around the world. Growing up, they were all observing different kinds of landscapes, learning how it can affect people's well-being. That was a huge source of inspiration.
When the world of Academia meets VR industry
Among Eascape team members there are scientists from University of Porto and National University of Singapore who specialize in Neuroscience, Environmental Psychology and Landscape Architecture. Why did they decide to go out with their expertise beyond the world of Academia and cross their paths with the VR industry? We wanted to use our knowledge and create a tool that would be accessible and helpful for everyone, especially for those who struggle with depression, anxiety, sleeplessness or burnout, as well as for elderly people who due to their health conditions often stay in isolation – says Nicolas Escoffier.
An invitation to a green peaceful change
A free version of Eascape is being launched right now on Oculus. But that is just the beginning. We dream big. We intend to conduct further research on the app, adjust it to particular groups of users and add new healthy environments based on Contemplative Landscapes from all corners of the world. But for now, we just want as many people as possible to try Eascape and be part of our green peaceful change. Our app is not about replacing nature – that’s simply impossible. But when you simply cannot access it, it is as close as it gets to the real experience – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo.
Our programme Planting Seeds of Empowerment Mental Health and Well-being of the Communities starts this year with a new project created in collaboration with international organisations to emphasise the importance of nature in the mental health and well-being of people residing in heavily urbanised cities.
The project entitled: Networks of Nature Integrating Urban Farming in the city Fabric will introduce and educative platform that will provide knowledge about the importance of individual and community actions in urban farming activities as accelerators for positive environmental change in Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore.
Joining efforts with two partnering organisations Binatani Sejahtera Foundation (Indonesia) and Technical Assistance Movement for People and Environment Inc (TAMPEI Philippines), Networks of Nature will provide a platform for empowerment towards nature actions to enable a shared sense of community and support. Three main educational modules will be developed focusing on: Urban farming, improving mental health through urban farming, and adaptable architecture infrastructures for urban farming. Our combined efforts from Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore will bring different sets of skills and expertise that will also help those engaged in the Networks of Nature to feel supported and connected to a global community.
Networks of Nature Integrating Urban Farming in the city Fabric was selected among the best five projects during the Gobeshona Global Conference in January this year. We will be running this project with the financial support of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCD), Climate Justice Resilience Funds, and Gobeshona Global conference.
The book is intended for citizens and political decision-makers interested in systems perspectives of urban health and well-being seeking for inspiration to find solutions for the increasing complexity of cities and the environmental, social, and health impacts of urbanization.
In our paper entitled: Coping with Extreme Circumstances Through Community-Led Local Nature Interventions: A Science-based Policy Analysis, we discuss
the importance of the Local Nature Interventions Projects (LNIP) that are created by low-income communities as coping strategies to extreme events to help them sustain
health and well-being.
We present examples of the LNIP taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic and we argue that the LNIP are part of a secondary green network that could be acknowledged as part of the main city’s urban green infrastructure. Therefore, the internal capacities of the communities to create sustainable projects in the natural and built environment across time should be acknowledged and supported in future urban green projects. With these preliminary findings, we seek to draw attention towards LNIP initiatives as they could become alternatives to sustain community empowerment, environmental awareness, and health and well-being across settlements located in extreme urban environments.
COVID-19, Cities and Health: A View from New York (Jo Ivey Boufford and Anthony Shih)
Current and Future Human Exposure to High Atmospheric Temperatures in the Algarve, Portugal: Impacts and Policy Recommendations(André Oliveira, Filipe Duarte Santos, and Luís Dias)
Neuroscience-Based Urban Design for Mentally Healthy Cities(Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo)
The Role of Money for a Healthy Economy(Felix Fuders)
Developing Health-Promoting Schools: An Initiative in Government Schools of Indore City, India(Alsa Bakhtawar)
Mobility and COVID-19: Time for a Mobility Paradigm Shift (Carolyn Daher, Sarah Koch, Manel Ferri, Guillem Vich, Maria Foraster, Glòria Carrasco, Sasha Khomenko, Sergio Baraibar, Laura Hidalgo, and Mark Nieuwenhuijsen)
COVID-19 Shows Us the Need to Plan Urban Green Spaces More Systemically for Urban Health and Wellbeing(Jieling Liu)
How Lack or Insufficient Provision of Water and Sanitation Impacts Women’s Health Working in the Informal Sector: Experiences from West and Central Africa(H. Blaise Nguendo Yongsi)
Planning Models for Small Towns in Tanzania(Dawah Lulu Magembe-Mushi and Ally Namangaya)
Coping with Extreme Circumstances Through Community-Led Local Nature Interventions: A Science-Based Policy Analysis(Diana Benjumea and Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo)