BBC Worls Service, My perfect City

NeuroLandscape featured in BBC “My Perfect City”

NeuroLandscape featured in BBC "My Perfect City" Series episode which was released on: 30 Dec 2020

New episode of the BBC World Service "My perfect city" features Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo among other experts.  They discuss Singapore as a city which attempts to improve residents' mental wellbeing through urban design.

Generally, people in cities are likely to experience mental health problems.  This counts for about 38% more than people living outside of big cities. Urban greening and creating therapeutic gardens with contemplative features can really help. But also, promoting high amenity public spaces,  physical exercise, housing security and social services are important too! These solutions can make a city more liveable but also reduce rates of disorders such as OCD, anxiety and depression.

But are these community-based, non-medical approaches enough to improve mental health among the population of the highly urbanized Singapore? Let's find out!

 

Listen to the end to find out if Singapore receives 3 ticks -  a perfect city mark.  This means that Singapore should be an example to follow by other cities!

Taking part in the podcast like this one was a great experience. Thanks to endeavours like this one we can share the knowledge from the scientists and inform the public!

Here are some other blog posts related to Singapore:

  1. Singapore Urban Sustainability MND Congress.
  2. IFLA Conference, Singapore
  3. Neuroscience data collection outdoors
  4. NeuroLandscape featured in BBC "My Perfect City"
Conscious Cities Festival

Healthy Cities – Cities for Humans, Conscious Warsaw 2020 (VIDEO)

A speech presented during the "Conscious Warsaw - Sensing our City" webinar organized by the Center for Conscious Design, which took place on October 22, 2020, in Polish (English subtitles available in this video!).

Dr. Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo presented a new concept of designing mentally healthy cities based on contact with salutogenic natural landscapes (Contemplative Landscapes) and introduced the scientific background and activities of her NGO.

The entire webinar is available on https://theccd.org/domain/conscious-warsaw/

Centre for Conscious Design: www.theccd.org

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The New Urban Normal_Dr Diana’s speech at TecNM (Mexico)_VIDEO

24th September 2020.

Tecnológico Nacional de México, campus Costa Grande, hosted an online event addressing the World New Normal in the interdisciplinary lens.

Dr Diana Benjumea gave a speech regarding architecture and urban planning, where she sets a new paradigm of bottom-up, evidence-based urban design. Moreover,  she introduces NeuroLandscape projects and explains the global implications of the emerging shift in thinking and approaching urban space.

The entire speech and Q&A session are available on youtube! English subtitles coming soon!

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Virtual Healthy Environments: Feasibility Study in Societies Affected by COVID-19 Summary of Results

Between 19 April and 12 May 2020, we ran an online survey titled "VHE for Well-Being".  Our goal was to better understand people's psychological needs, especially the relationship between Covid-19 confinement and mental health. We also aimed to test feasibility and demand for Virtual Healthy Environments (VHE) - our solution for health and well-being. To do this, we developed a questionnaire in five languages: English, Polish, Italian, Spanish and French and shared it through our website and social media (see the call for responses here). Please check out the summary of our work below! A special thank you to all participants who helped us discover these important trends!

Sample Characteristics

We collected 507 (318 female) responses from nearly every continent, but mainly from Europe. Most were from Poland, Spain and Italy, primarily representing two different socio-geographic zones: South-European (Mediterranean) and Central European regions. There were also contributions from France and the UK to help understand Western European trends. 

The respondents were between 19 and 90 years old, with most between 24 and 41 years old (n=294). There were 23 elderly respondents (>65 years old). The largest portion of our respondents was from high-density cities (33%) or large or medium-sized cities (25%). 12% reported living in the suburbs of big cities. This means the majority of respondents (70%) were from the urban population.

Summary of Main Findings

We ran our analysis based on two groups of psychological issues:

1. General mental health & well-being: comprised of the feelings of loneliness, helplessness, isolation, restlessness, sadness or depression, anxiety, worry and uncertainty about the future, higher irritability, and insomnia.

2. Productivity & cognitive performance: comprised of the feeling of boredom, problems with memory, and decreased motivation, productivity and concentration.

    • Men reported less general mental health issues than women, but stronger productivity/cognitive issues. It looks like women cope better with cognitive performance but are worse with general mental health issues than men. However, it is also possible that women were more willing to report these mental health issues as other research suggests.
    • A large majority (85%) of respondents missed meeting with friends and family the most during confinement (Figure 8). Travelling and contact with nature were the second most missed activities with 59% and 58% of people affected, respectively. Over half (53%) of respondents missed events and socialising, 36% missed going to work and/or school and 37% practising sport.

 

  • Percentage of respondents listing each activity in response to the question: "What did you miss the most in the period of confinement?", broken down by gender.

Did people miss nature?

    • In our survey, 58% of people reported missing contact with nature during the confinement period. Interestingly, this was an activity missed equally by men and women; people of all ages, across all income brackets, and levels of education.
    • People living in big cities missed contact with nature significantly more than others (strong link found between city size and missing nature during confinement).
    • Also, self-employed individuals and homemakers reported missing nature significantly more than others.
  • person experiencing the healing benefits of being in nature
    Lack of time in nature was a significant factor during Covid-19 confinement and mental health was negatively affected as a result
  • Other research shows that people are poor at explicitly seeing the positive health effect of nature: it is good for them, but they are not always aware of it. This makes it challenging to capture these effects in self-reported surveys.  This highlights the need for providing education about and evidence for the benefits of exposure to nature on mental health and well-being.

 

Can Virtual Healthy Environments be a Solution?

At NeuroLandscape we are developing a self-care tool based on Virtual Reality (VR) technology and exposure to nature (read more about the project). It is a solution for all those who cannot access healing natural environments as often as they would like to in order to keep their mind healthy. We addressed some survey questions to test the feasibility of our solution. This will be useful to support our research grant applications. Below are some interesting findings we hope will convince the grantors.

  • The vast majority (79%) of respondents declared being interested in VR technology. VR use at home and during potential future confinement periods was the preferred situation.
  • People who declared missing travelling were more likely to try Virtual Healthy Environments.
  • Women, in general, reported greater interest in using VR for contact with nature and self-care activities than men (32% vs. 17% for contact with nature), while men preferred VR for games and movies.
"For what activities would you use VR technology?" - Percentage of individuals who listed each activity, broken down by gender.

 

Other interesting findings

Overall, people reported a decline in mental health and wellbeing due to confinement. However, the effect was not incremental over time (more time confined did not correlate with worse mental health and wellbeing). Our respondents missed meeting friends and family the most, followed by travelling, socializing, and contact with nature. The least missed activity was shopping. Nature was missed more by urban than rural dwellers, but it was equally missed by men and women, people of all ages, across all income brackets, and levels of education. Interestingly,  people who missed going to work or school reported worsened productivity and cognitive performance as a consequence of confinement.

Conclusions

This survey has more clearly defined the relationship between Covid-19 confinement and mental health. Respondents were not only able to self-report the effects on their mood, but also shared the degree to which specific activities were missed. These findings were useful in evaluating the potential of the VHE app in helping to mitigate the negative effects of adverse stressful circumstances (such as the confinement period). They show it could be effective to provide a digital tool based on VR for improving mental health.

We would like to thank all participants of the survey!

Survey and Report Authors : Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, Dr Nicolas Escoffier, Dr Weronika Gąsior, Agnieszka Chadała. Full text of the report available through info@neurolandscape.org

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Landscape & Brain – neuroscience data collection outdoors (VIDEO)

Brain scans outdoors: how to collect reliable EEG and FNIRS data in-situ?

Rigorous neuroscience research would question collecting the neuroscience data outdoors, due to too many confounding factors occurring and researchers not being able to control them all. In the sensory exposure research, each participant has to be exposed to the same set of stimuli, which is very difficult if not impossible in an outdoor setting.  For example, small environmental nuances such as certain type of cloud covering the sun would change the amount of light reaching the eye of the participant , which can dramatically change the alpha power produced by the brain.

For this sake we should collect the exposure data in a controlled-lab environment, controlling for each factor such as brightness, temperature, etc. Also, we should use the same set of stimuli, that can be recorded in a form of photo, video or more immersive - VR.

However, environmental researchers, landscape architects and ecologists will all agree that the exposure to nature in the lab has nothing to do with the one outdoors in a real setting. Lab-based experiment lacks the so-called "ecological validity" - meaning it cannot be fully compared with the real experience. As it is essential to advance the knowledge in the area of real exposure to nature as opposed to natural images, we took a challenge to collect a reliable data outdoors, while controlling for most important environmental factors (temperature, humidity, brightness and noise), and making sure for each participant the experience is as similar as possible.

We recorded the video of in-situ data collection from the "Effects of Landscapes on the Brain" project in Singapore, where we show how the EEG and fNIRS data can be collected outside. We have published the preliminary findings from that research in a journal.

Let us know if you have comments or questions about that procedure, also share and support pushing this discipline forward!

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Designing & Using School Grounds to Support Mental Health (Video Available!)

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:

  1. an introduction to the ISGA activity by Kerry Logan;
  2. showcasing international best-practice examples, by Kathrin Schmiele;
  3. research and design lessons from neuroscience by Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo;
  4. strategies for the design of schoolyards for students Claire Latané.

Related post

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Take part in our survey and support research and development in the times of pandemic

The current global outbreak of #COVID19 makes the problem of our living space and mental health more relevant than ever. Read more in our recent blog post.  This is why we need new solutions and new approaches.

Please complete this 5-min, anonymous survey. If possible, share it with your family and friends, with special attention to elderly people, who (that’s our guess) could benefit from our solutions the most.

The form is available in 5 languages:

1) English – https://forms.gle/SDfC3reh21pXdWw79

2) Polish – https://forms.gle/5jkfNLn7vrsVRKLW9

3) Italian – https://forms.gle/DMPEYNVtKXFLQ1367

4) Spanish – https://forms.gle/3iUCWRZMJ4HhUYWp6

5) French –https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSchCH4Wzs4Y7eVtHHtsB0SrIbs23-I2mgvIz0vmGjQCsgYzQg/viewform

We envision to share the results from this survey on our website soon, in the form of a comprehensive report.

Stay tuned. Stay healthy. Stay sane.

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Mental Health is also important – something about the connection with nature in the times of confinement

Landscape architects and urban ecology researchers have always been trying to bring people more to the outdoors, make the most of urban parks and gardens, calling the public attention to issues such as nature deficit disorder, mental health consequences from spending our time mostly indoors, looking at phones or monitors…

Today, the situation is calling for staying at home out of social responsibility or simply following the new regulations.  Those who haven’t got a garden, those who live in dense cities are being completely disconnected from nature. Many countries, such as Poland for example, have banned access to any forests, parks and gardens for all citizens in the cities or in the countryside.

There is a lot of shaming going on for those who leave homes to get a walk outside.  It is in fact socially irresponsible to go out now and risk spreading the virus to others.

As this is not the post to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do. It is rather to remind ourselves of the psychological consequences of social distancing, self-isolation and disconnection with nature that we all are facing now.

Many of us will feel lonely, bored and stuck; our motivation to work, productivity and ability to concentrate on tasks may decrease. We may experience restlessness and insomnia, depression, anxiety and high irritability. All these are typical for “cabin fever syndrome”, and fit very well to what we’re facing today.  Adding the worry and uncertainty about the future on the top of this doesn’t make it better…

Getting out from home, and even unconscious contact with nature (being under the sky, feeling the slight breeze of wind, seeing flowers or trees) can have a powerful positive effect on us today. Nature can help us keep sane and grounded. If you cannot go outside, spend time on the balcony, gaze outside the window, observe the moving clouds, or leaves dancing with the wind. Even observing the daylight moving along the daily cycle gives some connection to the environment outside.

Conscious practice of the connection with nature can help you keep mental health hygiene in these difficult times.

Stay healthy and sane everyone!

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Blue space and mental health report out for review!

As a contributor to Expert Working Group Biodiversity & Health of the 3rd French Plan on Health and Environment (PNSE3) – Ministry in charge of the Environment (MTES) France, since 2017 we have been working to answer the following 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?

As our work is coming to an end we came up with a draft systematic review on the blue space part. To ensure that we follow a transparent and robust process, we ask our peer experts to review the draft report developed by the expert working group. In light of your expertise on this important policy-relevant topic, we would be most grateful if you could assist us in the peer-review of the draft report (in this case part 1, blue spaces).

The draft report in pdf can be found here and the form for comments here:

Please note the deadline for submitting comments is February 28th 2020.

More information can also be found directly on the EKLIPSE website under the following link: http://www.eklipse-mechanism.eu/open_calls

Thank you very much in advance for your support.

 

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A landscape architect’s experience of Chelsea Flower Show 2018 (PART_4)

These three very special gardens of the Chelseas Flower Show 2018, were featured this year on the NeuroLandscape blog:

  1. Feel good garden
  2. Morgan Stanley garden
  3. Lemon Tree Garden

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.