Pokemon GO gets us outside, but then what?

Is there something wrong with this picture? (Screenshot of Pokemon GO video)
Is there something wrong with this picture? (Screenshot of Pokemon GO video)

I’m trying hard not to be an old fuddy-duddy, so please help me out. I want to hear from you about Pokemon GO (and other technology that gets people outdoors, but mostly PG). It’s only been around since Thursday, but the sensation seems to be sweeping the nation (or the world?), perhaps at a time when we could all use some positive distraction. It is summer, after all… And Pokemon GO does get people outside… kind of. Check out the official video:

I gotta admit, I was kind of appalled when I watched it. The players are outside, even in nature, but they’re glued to their phones. They smile at each other in passing, but they’re still on their own. But I’m sort of old-school when it comes to nature. I think that to best experience nature’s restorative benefits, you can’t be hooked up to technology. You have to unplug to recharge. There is some research that affirms this, but right now we’re talking about Pokemon.


Gezi Park, Nearby Nature, and Democracy

Taksim Gezi Park protests,People at Taksim Gezi Park on 3rd Jun 2013. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Taksim Gezi Park protests,People at Taksim Gezi Park on 3rd Jun 2013. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Can you imagine a city without any parks? The recent mass (literally – they are happening all over the country) protests in Turkey, sparked by the government’s plans to raze the only remaining park in Istanbul, is a powerful indicator of people’s need for green space (click here for a good overview).

Yesterday I posted a fascinating New York Times Blog article, “Urban Trees as Triggers, From Istanbul to Oregon,” on our Facebook and Linked In groups for discussion. Filiz Satir, our TLN Blog Events Editor, wrote this response:

So, I have been following the events in Istanbul and Turkey with great interest. (My family is from Turkey.) What started out as a peaceful protest two weeks ago in opposition to construction of a shopping mall and the razing of park in the heart of Istanbul Turkey – quickly transformed into a countrywide political protest against the policies of governing AK Party and Prime Minister R.T. Erdogan. However, the original protests in the famous Gezi Park were about the public staking a claim on and fighting for one of the last remaining open spaces in this hub of Istanbul – truly a labyrinth of a metropolis.

I am nervous for what might happen in the next 8 to 10 hours as the PM issued an ultimatum earlier today – to shut down protesters in the park. This mini-documentary is compelling for showing Turkish civil society becoming politically engaged through their activities in and around Gezi Park, Taksim Square http://youtu.be/9hqeC4L7of8 via @youtube

Gezi Park protests

A Turkish riot policeman uses tear gas as people protest against the destruction of trees in a park brought about by a pedestrian project, in Taksim Square in central İstanbul on May 28, 2013. (Photo: Reuters, Osman Orsal)

What do you think of all of this? Please leave a comment here or on our Linked In group.

Filiz Satir, in addition to being our terrific Events Editor, is the author of the beautiful blog Nearby Nature: Lessons From the Natural World. She is a enior communications professional, technical writer, and storyteller with a track record for delivering institutional communications programs for a variety of public and private organizations. Thank you, Filiz!

Therapeutic Landscapes with The Patron Saint of Architecture

"The Patron Saint of Architecture" blog image courtesty of Angela Mazzi

This week on the blog, “The Patron Saint of Architecture,” Angela Mazzi features therapeutic landscapes through an interview with me. She asked some excellent, thought-provoking questions that get to the heart of what therapeutic landscapes are, how they function, why they’re necessary, and what designers and healthcare providers can do to make sure that they get incorporated into their projects.

Angela is an architect who specializes in healthcare. Her blog explores all sorts of aspects of healthcare-related design, including (of course) design, as well as business strategies, communication techniques, and “thoughts on how to get and stay inspired as a designer.”

Here are a couple snippets, but I encourage you to read the full post on The Patron Saint of Architecture blog.

How Does your Garden Grow? The Role of Therapeutic Landscapes in Design, by Angela Mazzi

What does landscaping mean to you?  Most likely, not nearly enough.  Too easily, we view it as decorative, a “nice to have” part of a project.  However, as we learn more about salutogenic design and the effects of the environment on wellness (everything from healing to better job performance), landscape starts to become a critical element, one which should form the basis of design.  With this in mind, I asked Naomi Sachs, Founder and Director of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network (TLN) to share some insights on the power of nature.

What is the difference between landscaping and a garden?  Is it only about habitation?

In general, I would say that a “landscape” is any outdoor space, wild or designed, and a “garden” is a designed space. A restorative landscape is simply an outdoor space that makes you feel good when you’re in it. To me, “landscaping” implies decorative elements like a lawn, shrubs, some trees, and is not necessarily intended for interaction.  A therapeutic (or healing) garden is a space designed for a specific population (children, cancer patients, people with Alzheimer’s) and a specific intended outcome (stress reduction, positive distraction, rehabilitation). This is not to say that landscaping isn’t important. Well-designed and maintained landscapes communicate to patients and their families that they will receive a high level of care, and this can happen from the moment you cross the property line.  Even areas such as parking lots can utilize landscape to provide and reinforce the overall image and mission of the facility.

Maintenance is always a concern when it comes to landscaping- I’ve actually worked with healthcare clients who wanted nothing but grass in the areas they “had” to landscape for ease of maintenance.  What kind of recommendations can you make to landscape skeptics about using plantings?

Access to nature just makes good business sense. Studies by Roger Ulrich, confirmed by others, have demonstrated less need for pain medication, improved patient satisfaction, faster recovery rates, and many other examples of improved outcomes for patients and staff. When you really look at the benefits of providing access to nature, the return on investment (ROI) justifies the initial cost and lifetime maintenance.  Hospitals need to see landscaping as a strategic investment in the same manner they would the purchase of a new MRI.

Visit The Patron Saint of Architecture to read the full article. Thank you, Angela, for a great conversation and post!


What is “nature,” anyway?

Martha's Vineyard beach. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Martha's Vineyard coastline. Photo by Naomi Sachs

A colleague posed an interesting question recently, in relation to providing access to nature in the healthcare setting: If we are arguing for access to nature in hospitals and other places of healing, then we shouldn’t we define it? Yes!

So, what is “nature”? Here are some thoughts.
Note that since posting this two days ago, I’ve already changed my definition slightly. I’m sure it will continue to evolve. Skip to the bottom of the post to see my latest definition as well as reference to an excellent article that has made me re-think my original one.

Let’s start with some dictionary definitions.


Oxford English Dictionary:
– 1 the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations: “the breathtaking beauty of nature”
– the physical force regarded as causing and regulating these phenomena: “it is impossible to change the laws of nature” See also Mother Nature.

American Heritage Dictionary (dictionary.com)
1. the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.
2. the natural  world as it exists without human beings or civilization.
3. the elements of the natural  world, as mountains, trees, animals, or rivers.

Natural is generally defined as “existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind.” (OED)

Naturalistic is usually defined as something that imitates nature: Plastic made to look like wood. A garden designed with soft, curving lines rather than hard, rectilinear ones (think Central Park and Piet Oudolf rather than Versailles and  Martha Schwartz).

In the past, and even in most dictionary definitions, nature is seen as separate from humans and everything made by them. More recent thinking, and I am in this camp, argues that we human beings are not – cannot be – separate from nature because we are living, breathing beings not all that far removed from our “natural” animal relatives. We are nature and nature is us.

So let’s agree that humans are a part of nature.
Then what of the things that we make (other than other humans)? What of concrete, and glass, and hybrid plants like tulips and roses, and cloned sheep? Which of those are nature, or natural, and which are…not? (more…)

“My Garden Saved My Life.”

Lotus flower

Image courtesy of Henry Domke, www.henrydomke.com

This is a really sweet sweet idea. Readers were asked to submit a paragraph about how “my garden saved my life,” with an accompanying image. Here are two excerpts:

In Tune with Nature
For me, it is simply the age-old connection to the earth itself. To dig in the ground, to watch new life spring forth, to reap the rewards of beautiful plants, flowers, maybe some edible fruits, vegetables, or herbs … that is all so enriching. And time spent in my garden is time spent away from every stressful thing in my life. I don’t think of it as me being in control of anything … I think of it as me being a PART of it all. Part of the earth, part of the plants, part of the seasons. Just in tune with nature, through and through.

Battling Breast Cancer
During my recent treatment for breast cancer, being in my garden helped me immensely. Although I couldn’t do much, just being outside and taking in the flowers, vegetables and all of the critters that go with a garden made me feel better. It also helped me not to feel sorry for myself and like I was accomplishing something, even if I just planted a couple of seeds that day.

Link to iVillage here to see all 15 slides. I’m sorry about all the annoying ads. Still, if you can work around those, it’s quite a nice post.

There’s also an essay titled “The Garden Saved My Life” by Barbara Blossom Ashmun, published in the anthology The Ultimate Gardener. Here’s the author’s blog post about it.

And what about you, dear reader? If you were asked the same question, what would your answer be? We’d love to hear from you, and others probably would, too! Leave a comment and let’s see what we have to say.

A Network Growing Strong: 1,000 members on Facebook!


Web photo by Henry Domke

As of today, the Therapeutic Landscapes Network has over 1,000 members on Facebook. Cue balloons falling from the ceiling and champagne cork popping!

Why is this such a big deal, other than being a nice big round number? Because we are creating a truly interactive, dynamic network, that’s why.

Ever since I first started the Therapeutic Landscapes Database back in 1999, I have wanted to create a “forum” – a sort of virtual gathering space – for sharing information, questions, and ideas. This was also one of the goals for our new website, and we’ve been knocking ideas around about how to best create this forum. In the meantime, Facebook started these “pages” where businesses and organizations could have members, or fans, or likers…the name keeps changing but the idea is the same: A group of people who are connected around the same issue.

And so, at least for the time being, the TLN’s Facebook page has become that forum. In addition to seeing what the TLN posts – and we do post information, events, links to other good organizations, picture, and so on almost every day – here are some of the other ways you can use the FB page:

  • Share information: Post stuff (links to articles and organizations, pictures, questions, thoughts, inspirations) on the wall – all members (fans) can post.
  • Comment on other people’s posts – great way to share information, ideas, etc.
  • See related organizations – In the left-hand column, see our “favorite pages” section for other like-minded organizations such as the Children & Nature Network, Horticultural Therapy Institute, the National Wildlife Federation.

So if you haven’t already joined us, please do. Believe me, I have my own issues with Facebook, especially with their new privacy policy, but for now, it is the best “forum” venue for us.

If you still don’t want to join Facebook, here are some other ways you can still be an active participant in the TLN:

1. Join our mailing list so that you get our monthly newsletter;

2. Leave comments on this blog – comments are a great way to get a discussion/conversation going between blog readers;

3. Join our group on Land8Lounge, the social networking site for landscape architects and designers (anyone is welcome, that’s just who it’s geared towards);

4. Contact us directly.

Thanks to each and every one of our members for making the “Network” part of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s name real and meaningful. We can learn so much from each other.

And thanks to Henry Domke for this beautiful (and yes, symbolic) web image.

Naomi Sachs, Founder & Director, Therapeutic Landscapes Network

Rantings of a frustrated therapeutic landscape advocate

Thank goodness! Two good images of therapeutic landscapes:
 Stream at McKee Medical Center, courtesy BHA Design Incorporated 

Okay, I’m annoyed. Maybe even more than annoyed. I just looked online at more than 15 sites of landscape architects who design therapeutic landscapes, searching for nice pictures to put on this blog, and I found three. What’s up with that? Why are so many healing gardens so ugly? Or is it just the photographs that make them look bad? You’d think that these big design firms – and some of them are big, award-winning design firms – would make the effort to take really kick-ass photos of their projects. Great colors, high resolution, clean the dead leaves off the walkway before taking the picture… Sigh. How are we supposed to convince others that therapeutic landscapes are worth building when we designers can’t even portray them well on our own websites? Granted, the outcomes are what matter most – if the people served by the garden/s benefit, that’s the most important thing. These outcomes are not usually measured in any sort of quantifiable way, but that’s another story for another time. What I’m talking about here is pure and simple marketing – to other designers, to hospitals, to clients. Maybe the first motto is “build it and they will come,” but the second one is “make it look good and the money will come.”
Here are some possible explanations for what I view as a real flaw. Some have to do with the aesthetics and efforts of the designer, which are easier to remedy, while others are problems that are much harder to control, and therefore to alleviate. I spend almost all of my time celebrating and advocating for therapeutic landscapes, so humor me while I explore ask, and try to answer, some tough questions. I hope that rather than just being a downer, this post creates some serious discussion about what we can do better in the future.
1. It’s the documentation that’s ugly, not the gardens themselves
Landscape architects often don’t have big budgets for healthcare projects. In fact, many are “pro bono,” meaning that the LA firm donates their time. The less corporate the institution, the more they rely on the generosity of the designer, the builder, and members of the community for “sweat equity” of one kind or another. So if the designer has already donated hundreds of hours in programming, design, and construction oversight, there’s not a lot left for high-quality documentation, which is really what’s needed. Instead, someone from the firm goes out with a simple digital camera and does his or her best at taking pictures, and they get put on the website. Also, of course, if a lot of the material and labor is donated, the final design may not be quite as aesthetically pleasing as the designer – or even the client – intended. But people make do, and are often grateful for what they get. Heck, it’s better than a big empty yard full of dirt, they figure. And it is! But it still doesn’t look very good in pictures. 
2. Bad visuals in general
You’d be surprised how many designers’ websites themselves are hideous. I mean, these are visual people! What are they thinking? If a designer puts so little effort into their online presence, then it’s not surprising that images of their projects are not exactly stellar, either. Maybe their printed material is better. Maybe they just believe that “you have to be there” and that’s that.
3. Privacy, and shiny happy people
To get permission to photograph patients and their families anywhere in a healthcare environment is very, very difficult. Often it’s impossible. All sorts of issues with HEPA and privacy and liability. So here you have these landscapes that were designed for people, and you can’t take pictures of those people using the space. And if you do get permission, you’ve got the challenge of making people who are unwell look good. I’m sorry, I know that doesn’t sound very nice. But think about it: Our society is terrified of death and disease. We don’t want to see old or sick people. It makes us feel scared and icky. We want to see well children – the hope of the future! – bouncing around and playing happily in some idyllic park-like setting. That is, I think, why the Children & Nature Network, which I very much respect, has been so successful. Just as polar bears are easier to support than some weird-looking toad, children are easier to rally around than the people our society would rather pretend aren’t there. Landscape Architecture Magazine published an article about the St. Louis Children’s Garden several years ago, and I so admire them for taking pictures of people using the space. The images were beautiful and compassionate, of a beautiful garden, with all sorts of different people, including those in wheelchairs and bandages and IV poles, enjoying and benefiting from the space. Really moving and well done. But again, they have the budget to overcome privacy hurdles, to art direct, and to use the right equipment to portray the project in the best light.
4. Maintenance
Maintenance, in general, is the bane of the landscape architect’s existence, but it’s even more of an issue in places where improper or insufficient maintenance can run from actually creating a dangerous situation for users (like cracked pavement, broken benches, or water fountains that aren’t cleaned the way they should be) to just being ugly (which, in an environment where beauty and life combat the stress of being sick, is another kind of dangerous). Let’s say you’re a design firm, and you finish a project at a medium-sized healthcare facility, one that raised a goodly sum for the design and construction of a “healing garden.” You don’t want to take pictures right after the garden is installed because the plantings need time to fill in, so you wait until the next season, or the next year, to go back and document. Meanwhile, it’s all fallen apart, or at least hasn’t been kept up to where taking great pictures is an option. You’d be surprised at how few fundraising campaigns budget for ongoing maintenance. Usually there’s little or no money new annual plantings, or tools, or a dedicated maintenance person/team. Often the upkeep falls upon the already over-burdened medical staff (nurses, horticultural therapists, volunteers). I once saw a dead tree in a pot in a “healing garden.” Maybe it looked lovely when that tree was alive, but the message when I saw it was not very confidence-inspiring: “If they can’t take care of a simple tree, what does that say about how they’re going to treat me or my loved one?” Do us a favor. Take the tree away. Or here’s another example, from an undisclosed hospital’s “rose garden.” Once upon a time, this pocket was filled with pamphlets that guided visitors through the rose garden, informing and inspiring them as they stopped to smell the roses. Now it’s just a cesspool of dirty water, and a clear indicator that someone is not paying attention.

4. Too much hardscape, not enough plants
Therapeutic landscapes require a fair amount of hardscape to be universally accessible, and hardscape – as opposed to planted “softscape” of lawns, big planting beds, mulch paths, etc. – don’t photograph well. But here is an example of a problem in which the photos give us some very clear insight: If we’ve learned one thing in the thirty years of quantitative research on what gardens have the most beneficial impact in the healthcare setting, it’s that the more green and lushly planted the garden, the better the outcome for patients, visitors, and staff. After all, the landscape is providing a contrast to the scary, sterile, hospital or clinic environment. It is supposed to literally be a breath of fresh air, and the more “nature” people encounter when they step out those hospital doors, the better. So if we’re seeing lots of pavement and other hard surfaces in pictures, that’s a clear indication that there’s not enough plant material to soften the effect. This, in my opinion, is a major flaw in design and execution, one that has serious ramifications for users, not just for marketing.
I’m sure there are other reasons for the dearth of good photos of therapeutic landscapes. Feel free to weigh in! Comments please! How much of this is really a problem and how much is just annoying? Who knows? I would love to see the following studies:
1. How good documentation of successful design projects increases the likelihood of more such projects being built in the future. 
2.  How maintenance – the good, the bad, and the non-existent – affects user outcomes in the healthcare environment. 

Evidence-Based Design: Definition and Discussion

The Center for Health Design is at the forefront of getting people to think and talk seriously about “evidence-based design,” which they define as “the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes.” In other words, designing places (buildings, gardens, and other spaces) for specific uses and specific populations based not just on one’s intuition or innate design sense, but on solid research. This becomes especially important when designing for people whose health and well-being is compromised, such as in hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities. 

Here’s an interesting blog posting from the CHD about this definition, with some great comments and discussion.

What do you think? Is this definition sufficient? What would you add, or how would you change it?

“Healing Environment” vs. “Healthy Environment”

Okay, I know it was three months ago, but I just came across this interesting discussion on the terminology of “healing environments” vs. “healthy environments” from the Center for Health Design Bloghttp://www.healthdesign.org/blog/234.phpPlus it gives me the excuse to post another picture from Maine:) 

Substituting the word “garden” for “environment” (“healing gardens” vs. “healthy gardens”) helped to clarify it for me. We in the landscape architecture and healthcare design community are still searching for one overarching term and definition for outdoor spaces that promote and facilitate health and well-being. I often use the term “Landscapes for Health” because 
1. It is broad enough to cover any outdoor (and even some indoor) spaces; 
2. It can mean a designed or totally “natural” landscape; and 
3. It can include both passive and active enjoyment of and benefit from contact with nature (e.g., just sitting on the rocks above, breathing in the fresh air and salt water, or gardening at a hospital as part of a horticultural therapy program). 

What say you, dear reader? Healing garden, restorative landscape, landscape for health – what term do you think best sums it all up?

Wanted: Information on Gardens for Grieving Children or Children’s Bereavement Centers

A senior landscape architecture major at the University of Rhode Island is looking for information on therapeutic gardens for grieving children and/or children’s bereavement centers for her final thesis. Please post to this blog if you have any information. Thank you!