edra

EDRA52 Conference Presentation | Just Environments

 

Speech presented at the 25th Environmental Design Research Association 25th Conference in the panel "Green Resilience and Behaviour" by Nazwa Tahsin.

Part of the Research Program "Nature Connection and Mental Health of Communities".

https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.edra.org/resource/resmgr/edra52/subpages/edra52_-_program_book.pdf

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Simply Green is Simply not Enough – a Prelude to Mentally Healthy 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.

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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Affordable Technologies for Evidence Based Studies and Mind Monitoring

The built environment and mental health of the residents within the city are extremely interconnected. Daily exposures are known to influence psychological processes, having both known and unknown consequences. The study of Gary W. Evans from 2003 points out that personal control, social support and restoration from stress and fatigue in the physical environment directly impacts mental health. He also points out the need for evidence-based studies and methods. “Mind Monitoring” is a method to consider in such studies, as this makes bringing out evidence easier. 

Unfortunately, our knowledge of the relation between mind and physical environment, especially in developing countries, is very little. Technology to conduct cross-sectional scientific studies is one of the biggest impedances. 

A lot of devices are making our day to day lives easier, productive and entertaining in innumerous ways. But these are the tools that have the potential to be used in mind monitoring. They make research on environmental impacts on minds more affordable. 

EEG a Mind Monitoring method

EEG stands for electroencephalogram. It is a test to find out and monitor the electrical activity of the brain using various noninvasive electrodes placed across the scalp. EEG electrodes pick up the electrical activity in the user’s brain. And then the collected signals are amplified and digitized and sent to a computer or mobile device for storage and data processing. Recently, these tests have been made affordable with new designs and exploring ways to use smartphones.

Some recent EEG devices

  • NeuroSky launched quite a number of second-generation products, such as MindWave, MindWave Mobile, MindWave Mobile Plus and MindWave Mobile 2. Mindwave Mobile 2 is the most affordable brainwave reading EEG headset. These devices are used in games, education, wellness, research and development.
  • Emotiv products achieved better performance and wider scalp coverage by using a higher number of channels and wet electrodes. This caused Emotiv products to have a more complicated set-up and higher price tag. Some Emotiv products are Insight, EPOC X, MN8 etc. They can provide easy-to-understand feedback on the level of stress and distraction to improve workplace wellness, safety and productivity.
  • Muse is a meditation facilitating device that comes along with a mobile application. Muse 2, Muse S are available having a lot of features. Provides real-time feedback on user’s brain activity, heart rate, breathing and body movements
  • Some other devices, such as: MyndPlay MyndBand, Aurora Dreamband, FocusBand, Neeuro SenzeBand work with various mind monitoring activities. For example: empowering users to train their brains to improve attention, meditation skills, for better sleep, dream clarity etc.

Price comparison

Company Product Release Year Price (USD)
NeuroSky MindWave Mobile 2  2018 199.00
Emotiv INSIGHT 2015 299.00
EPOC X 2020 849.00
MN8 Still in production 
interaXon Muse 2014 199.00
Muse 2 2016 249.00
Muse S 2019 349.00
OpenBCI OpenBCI 2014 349.00 (Ultracortex Mark IV)

399.00 (Electrode Cap)

MyndPlay  Myndband 2014 299.00
Aurora DreamBand 2015 299.00
FocusBand FocusBand 2016 600.00
Neeuro SenzeBand 2016 299.00

The researchers and practitioners of developing countries like Bangladesh or Colombia are not much aware of these EEG solutions. Most of the time the price range would still be unaffordable. But the products provided by NeuroSky,  interaXon and MyndPlay are comparatively less costly and can be affordable for the research and mental health practitioners in Bangladesh.

Summing up, affordable technologies for mind monitoring are now rising.  And a displayable number of multidisciplinary collaborative research and experiments in this sector will increase their potential to a great extent!

Authors: Muntaka Ibnath, Nazwa Tahsin

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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!

mini_isga

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.

Generations of women in slums in a snap

Unraveling links among climate change, poverty and health in slums of Dhaka

It is well known to the environmentalists that Bangladesh is currently considered the 7th most vulnerable country to the adverse effects of ongoing climate change. What we do not know, however, is the adverse effects that are already in place and how much it is tangled with rural-urban migration, rehabilitation, gender, human rights, and health issues with a large share of mental health problems, seldom studied and looked into

To investigate what is the aftermath of women coming into Dhaka and settling inside the slums after facing the atrocities of natural hazards linked with climate change- I, along with my teammate Rupita, Ananya, Mimi, Jahin went through thorough interviews and focus group discussions with the displaced ladies.  We focused on women who came to Dhaka in 10-15 years from the present time, as various studies suggest that more than 80% of displaced people from the time after 2010 would be climate migrants. 

What we found out so far was more astounding than expected. Women, unlike men, came to Dhaka only when their families had reached the bottom level of poverty- when they had lost everything to the disasters. There were attempts to be settled near their origins by many of them, but futile. Dhaka city, to them, was not an option, rather the only hope of survival. None of the interviewees claimed they wish to live in Dhaka– many of them have adopted a tedious life on bare minimums to save money- so that perhaps one day they can go back to their origins and settle. But in reality, this is a dream achievable by only a few. With their average household income of 5 to 10 dollar a day, in the 72nd most expensive city to live in, saving money is nearly impossible. 

All of our respondents claimed being stricken with ‘poverty’ after surviving climatic hazards. Neither authorities of their origin nor in Dhaka were prepared to rehabilitate them. The result- migration into shabby slums in Dhaka as these were the only places accessible and ‘relatively’ affordable to them, and the city had better employment opportunities for such ‘ill-fated’ women. 

Women in Tejgaon Railway Slum selling vegetables for a living

Misery, however, never left the ladies.

According to the women, they feel despair from the cutoff of rural lifestyle. The environment and culture is very different from what they are used to live in. They feel out pf space. Poverty in the slums is worse than imagination. Not only the people, especially women, earn less, but the cost of basic facilities are much higher, yet inadequate. Moreover, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) like catcalling and sexual abuse is very common for the women in slums. The structures and design of slums only make things worse for them. The houses in the slum are very small, roughly 100 sq ft. Each family reside within one of such houses, with only one room in it. The houses have no space in between them, and the paths connecting the slums can be as narrow as 3 ft. This makes the residence in the houses and even walking in the paths uncomfortable. They feel a lack of privacy in their new life. Fire hazards are frequent, and fear of eviction is a constant threat in their lives.  Lack of water supply points and toilets leave them prone to health hazards and security threats alike. On one hand, lack of toilets puts women in a vulnerable position to GBV when using the toilet or collecting water, especially during night time. On the other hand, it forces them to reduce drinking water, hold onto urine and follow unsanitary practices during menstruation- causing dehydration, urinary infection, constipation, uterine prolapse, and reproductive problems. Rising temperature increases the demand for drinking water. With groundwater depletion, the supply of water becomes scarce and women are the worst sufferers of the condition. They are the ones expected to reduce consumption first. Also, erratic rainfall causes flooding in the slums, that impede them from collecting water or going to toilets.

Ashes from fire outbreak still remain after a month
A woman inside a ‘toilet’ in Tejgaon Railway Slum
Row of houses in Korail Slum

 

 

 

Abandoned house after ‘development project’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though our interviews didn’t focus on the mental health of the woman, prevailing notion of chronic stress and fear they deal with every day was evident within the fear of violence, eviction and lack of belonging and identity. In all of our interviews, participants expressed their frustrations, insecurities and struggles of everyday life. 

In short, the cost of survival is beyond our imagination. Further investigation can help us understand their extent of adaptation within urban spaces, especially in slums. Mental health associated with coping with a new urban environment losing their home,  security threats, condition of facilities and changed identity and their needs for rehabilitation needs to be thoroughly understood to ensure a better life for them. 

Bangladesh has made remarkable improvements in tackling natural hazards by reducing casualties and economic loss. But to be truly a resilient nation, we have to prepare ourselves to restore the lives of climate survivors, not forgetting the ladies.

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Connecting Social and Urban Studies with Health and Well-being of Communities – Speech at the National University of Colombia in Manizales

On January 29th 2020 NeuroLandscape’s Board Member Dr. Diana Benjumea was invited to give a talk in the Universidad Nacional de Colombia to the staff and students of the Department of Architecture and Built Environment in the city of Manizales.

The talk aimed to share the multidisciplinary work that is conducted in NeuroLandscape with special attention to the new program  Nature Connection and Mental Health of the Communities launched last year.

The information included some of the preliminary study results obtained from the two main international research clusters in Medellin (Colombia) and Dhaka (Bangladesh). The presentation discussed the social and scientific research approaches that NeuroLandscape is leading in order to understand the contribution of nature in the mental health of low-income communities with the aim of informing new urban design models.  

Staff from the Universidad de Caldas Manizales and the National Training Service (SENA) joined in the discussion of creating possible cooperation between institutions and NeuroLanscape in order to consolidate future social and scientific projects in the city of Manizales that could contribute to the health and well-being of the communities in this city.

With combined efforts from the educational institutions and the scientific background of Neurolandscape, future projects are envisioned, in which a greater network of opportunities that include new research projects and transfer skills education programs could be established with the aim of benefiting low-income community residents.