Experts talks were a part of the Sustainability day at the FoodForum and gave a lot of fruit for thought on how we can work towards more #circular cities (Vojtech Vosecky), nature inclusive urban developments such as #pampus #Almere (Paola Huijding & Ingrid Zeegers) and on a street-level scale by #RewildingSteppingStones (Gideon Spanjar) and the value for human well-being by Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo.
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.
Webinar will be held in Polish language, but the recording from it will be translated to English and avaiable after the event
The imagination of urban and landscape designers and architects has been captured by the idea that we read spaces as we read books. However, we have been witnessing a paradigm shift in the cultural world: we are moving from semiotics towards perception and landscapes are becoming sensescapes. Contemporary cities don’t always enable us a multimodal experience of space, they are not always designed with human scale in mind, they don’t always consider our biological and psychological needs. What is the ultimate meaning of human-centred spaces? Is it that in future urban and architectural decisions could be influenced by interdisciplinary teams including specialists who understand the complexity of human perception and cognition?
Sensing Our City is organized to discuss some of the topics around how people experience space and how it affects their attitudes, behaviours, health and wellbeing.
- Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo (NeuroLandscape, National University of Singapore)
- Michal Matlon (The LivingCore)
- Asst. Prof. Dr. Karolina M. Zielinska-Dabkowska (Gdańsk University of Technology)
- Dominika Sadowska (Divercity+)
- Beata Patuszyńska (City for Children)
- Anna Kotowska (Jaz+Architekci)
- Magda Gawron (Proptech Foundation)
- Waldemar Olbryk (Echo Investment SA)
- Anna Petroff-Skiba (Warsaw City Hall)
- Przemyslaw Zakrzewski (ABB)
- Karolina Konecka (ARCATURE SA)
- Joanna Erbel ('Blisko' Foundation, Warsaw City Hall)
- Nour Tawil (Max Planck Institute for Human Development)
- Davide Ruzzon (TUNED Lombardini22)
More information: https://theccd.org/event/sensing-our-city-conscious-warsaw-webinar/
The video from the webinar is already available on! The webinar organized by the International School Grounds Alliance and the Children &Nature Network on how school grounds can be designed and used to support took place on June 23rd 2020, and featured research and design insights on how to design mentally healthy outdoor spaces for children.
Everyone interested in design for children will find a lot of inspiration in this video, in other words it's a must-see! We are very proud and grateful that NeuroLandscape could be a part of this insightful panel!
The program featured:
- an introduction to the ISGA activity by Kerry Logan;
- showcasing international best-practice examples, by Kathrin Schmiele;
- research and design lessons from neuroscience by Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo;
- strategies for the design of schoolyards for students Claire Latané.
24th June 2020 9:00 AM Singapore Standard Time.
Daily contact with nature is vital for supporting the mental health and well-being of children and young people. Join the International School Grounds Alliance and the Children & Nature Network for this webinar that will focus on how school grounds can be designed and used to support mental health.
The content will cover an introduction by Jaime Zaplatosch; and the work of ISGA by Kerry Logan; I will emphasize the importance of the topic and present a video showcasing international best-practice examples, followed by a presentation on the lessons from the neuroscience research by NeuroLandscape President Dr. Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo , finalized by a presentation on design strategies that reduce stress and anxiety and boost mental health and community by Claire Latané.
At the end we will have a Q&A session and an exciting DRAW together exercise!
For those who cannot attend at this time, the webinar will be recorded and share through the NeuroLandscape Youtube Channel.
Register for free here!
23 June, 6PM MST
In Yuval Harari’s book Home Deus, he states that the greatest leaps in human progress were not simply the result of individual acts. Instead, the greatest leaps have been the result of our ability as a species to cooperate in large numbers.
Join us for an insightful conversation about how breakthroughs in neuroscience have led us to better understand how the brain functions when we’re faced with perspectives that are different from our own. By understanding how our brain works we can better understand each other, improve our ability to work together, and more effectively solve humanity’s most pressing urban challenges.
Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo is the Founder & President of NeuroLandscape, a non-profit dedicated to improving mental health and wealth-being through green space design. With a Ph.D. from the University of Porto in Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology, alongside experience developing numerous research projects worldwide, Agnieszka possesses a unique understanding of how urban design impacts the human brain.
Maria Escobar-Bordyn is the Vice President of Creating WE, an organization that coaches CEO's on the importance of conversations in shaping corporate culture and achieving goals. After spending her early career on HR teams in two Fortune 100 companies, Maria spent 12 years at a global human performance consulting firm where she coached hundreds of hundreds of executives. She has a degree in Social Ecology with a concentration in human behaviour from the University of California, Irvine.
Mitchell Reardon is the Lead for Urban Planning, Design & Experiments at Happy City. Happy City is an interdisciplinary urban planning and design consultancy that uses the science of wellbeing to create healthier, happier and more inclusive communities. Mitchell is also the co-founder of Metropolitan Collective, a group of tactical urbanists who transform unloved and overlooked spaces. He received his Masters of Science in Urban and Regional Planning at Stockholm University and his insights have been heard on CBC News, StarMetro, CBC Radio and more.
The more we know about the interactions between the landscape and human nervous system the better we can plan and design our living environments to serve our health.
With water being the essential component of any form of life, it is not surprising that it also influence our psychophysiological response, even if we are just passively exposed to it. But what kind of water feature, and what do we have to do with this water to achieve this response? This is a question that scientists (NeuroLandscape included) have been trying to answer.
Let’s concentrate on the river. According to Jungian dream analysis, based on his theory of collective unconscious, the river is a symbol of death and rebirth (baptism), the flowing of time into eternity, transitional phases of the life cycle, and incarnations of deities. In Dr. Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo’s research river is one of the archetypal elements making the landscape “contemplative” and therefore therapeutical.
In the fMRI study from 2017 the team of Prof Chang, Chun-Yen (National Taiwan University) discovered that the passive exposure to the river views alters the brain functioning significantly, when compared to the urban views (see the image above).
The brain activity related to the “urban versus water ” contract was located in the left and right cuneus (Fig. 5).
The cuneus is primarily known for its involvement in basic visual processing. Furthermore, the right cingulate gyrus and left precuneus were also activated. These regions, which are part of Brodmann area 31 (BA31) and known as the dorsal
posterior cingulate cortex, are assumed to influence the focus of attention by adjusting whole-brain metastability (Leech & Sharp, 2014). – Tang et.al 2017
It looks like there is nothing better for our nerves fatigues from all day in the office or and after several hours commuting through the urban jungle than walk along the riverfront immersing with our senses into the soothing flow of the waters.
Olszewska, A. A., Marques, P. F., Ryan, R. L., & Barbosa, F. (2018). What makes a landscape contemplative?. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 45(1), 7-25.
Leech, R., & Sharp, D. J. (2014). The role of the posterior cingulate cortex in cognition and disease. Brain, 137(1), 12–32.
Tang, I. C., Tsai, Y. P., Lin, Y. J., Chen, J. H., Hsieh, C. H., Hung, S. H., … & Chang, C. Y. (2017). Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to analyze brain region activity when viewing landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning, 162, 137-144.
These three very special gardens of the Chelseas Flower Show 2018, were featured this year on the NeuroLandscape blog:
They are a great source of information and inspiration on how to create healthy space through the landscape design, right selection of plants, materials, textures and shapes. This year, the dominant color palette were definitely different shades of purple. This colour has a powerful impact not only on our mood but also behaviors. It calms and soothes, silences and regenerates the nervous system, enhances creativity and spirituality. It’s best for relaxation. Blues and greens create a calming atmosphere as well.
As a landscape architect, through visiting this year’s Chelsea gardens I got inspired by some design strategies to create a space that has a positive effect on our well-being and mental health:
- cool – toned colors of the plants and materials that have a calming and relaxing effect on people’s state of mind (whites, pinks, purples and blues),
- variety of plants – next to ornamental plants we should remember about aromatic herbs, evergreen species, perennials and grasses, which provides variety of textures during whole year,
- encouraging wildlife – observing birds can make us more happy and relaxed,
- creating an interesting route and/or something beautiful to look at and focus on, which will help to forget about everyday stress and problems.
I am very glad that such prestigious show like Chelsea provides people a great opportunity to explore solutions to some of the actual most pressing not only environmental but also social and economic challenges. This year’s gardens are great, healthy places that make people feel very comfortable and at ease, offer spaces that increase social interaction, reduce stress, antisocial behavior and isolation. Luckily, the community awareness of how the public health can be enhanced by increasing access to green and blue space and improving the quality of our natural environment is a growing trend.
We are more and more involved in issues related to green areas in places where we live, ready to fight for better, greener cities to live in and enjoy in the harmony with nature. We look to the future with hope that it will be possible to prevent or slow down the progress of many diseases related to our mental health, looking beyond traditional treatments and medicines, through a range of activities, including gardening and spending time in a high quality, healthy and sustainable green spaces.
At the Chelsea Flower Show 2018 my number one garden was designed to raise awareness of the NSPCC’s work – UK’s leading children’s charity, preventing abuse and helping those affected to recover. The Morgan Stanley Garden’s design is a metaphor for the emotional transformation of the child who experiences the positive influence of the NSPCC’s work. At the same time garden presents the space where these children, often suffering from anxiety, phobias, neurosis, feelings of guilt and shame, isolation, depression and stress with reduced self-esteem, can feel good and safe.
The garden attracts attention and inclines to a deeper contemplation which was not disturbed even by a huge crowd of visitors around. This is undoubtedly due to the proper selection of wide variety of plant species, materials, the play of lights, applied simple forms and shapes.
At the entrance to the garden the direction of the path in the woodland is unclear. Heading more into it, we have possibility to rest in more open and tranquil space, filled with soft, textured perennials. In the middle of the garden we have a very nice pavilion made of warm-toned cedar. A pretty simple construction with moving walls where views toward the safe sensory environment are not blocked. Therefore, it provides greater sense of space, freedom and security. Sense of peace and calm is provided by L-shaped canal and reflective nature of water which with its soothing effect could not be missed here.
Our concentration can focus on very interesting sculptures including a Kinetic Art Table or leaf-shaped sculpture in the water canal. A very characteristic element of the garden that affects its character are the walls surrounding the water channel. Made of verdigris porcelain tile, with perfect color and very artistic appearance they are a beautiful and original combination with water and create the refraction of sunlight.