Health and Well-being and the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) – Guest post by Jerry Smith

Smartville Gardens, A SITES Pilot Project. Designer, The Fockele Garden Company
Smartville Gardens, A SITES Pilot Project. Designer, The Fockele Garden Company

Landscape Architect Jerry Smith wears many distinctive and distinguished hats, one of which is working on the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES). He was recently asked to write an introduction to one of the Human Health and Well-being Credits of SITES and floated a draft by me, a non-SITESian, for comment. I, in turn, coerced Jerry, a non-Blogger, into posting the introduction on the TLN Blog.  As Jerry says, “We both graciously submitted to peer pressure and long-winded threats.” The intersection of sustainability and landscapes for health is – strangely – not discussed all that much. Jerry is one of the few landscape architects I know who is solidly committed to both, and SITES is at the vanguard of blending these two important design considerations.

Health and Well-being and the Sustainable Sites Initiative

For those not familiar with SITES, it is a partnership made up of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the United States Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of the University of Texas at Austin for the purpose of developing a sustainable design rating system for all landscapes, with and without buildings.

Divided into five areas of focus (Hydrology, Soils, Vegetation, Materials and Human Health and Well-being), SITES follows the USGBC LEED-based point system format awarding points or Credits to landscape design projects for achieving sustainable metrics and benchmarks.  The Human Health and Well-being (HHWB) Credits distinguish SITES from other sustainable toolkits by acknowledging that people are a part of, not apart from, the environmental equation and has developed a section of design metrics that address the human health attributes of site design.

Credit 6.7: Designing for Views and Quiet Outdoor Spaces is one of those HHWB Credits and addresses issues surrounding the question:

‘How natural settings provide reduced stress and anxiety’

The rhythm between nature and mankind is so ingrained into our being that it often is taken for granted and goes unnoticed.  Our connections, such as circadian rhythm, cycles of life, and seasonal change provide us with a sense of oneness with nature and an unconscious measure of security in a grander vision of life than our own perspectives allow.

And yet we wonder why that feeling of repose comes over us as we view a garden or walk in the woods or sit by a stream.  Natural settings bridge those connections and remind us of our inner self that is apparent when we see it naturally emerge in children, and yet so foreign to our own busy adult lives.  This innate understanding of our relationship with nature is one reason why social scientists, environmentalists and site designers alike are turning to the natural environment to ease the stress and anxiety that living in today’s built environment has created.

The amount of research into the health benefits of nature has grown exponentially over the last two decades.  This great body of work both verifies and validates our connection with nature and its expression of well-being in our emotional and physical health.  Evidence-based and sustainable design strategies are developing into metrics that help define our success rate and steer us toward creating a more humane place to live.

SITES Credit 6.7 is one such measuring tool, and one which helps distinguish SITES as a relevant toolkit, enabling designers of the built environment to create spaces that are site and user specific and which help bridge those connections to nature that we innately rely on for positive health outcomes in today’s world.

Dublin Methodist Hospital, Dublin, OH. Image courtesy MSI Design
Courtyard garden, Dublin Methodist Hospital. Image courtesy Brad Feinknopf Photography

Jerry Smith, FASLA, EDAC, LEED AP is a Principal at SMITH \ GreenHealth Consulting and serves on the Technical Core Committee and the Human Health and Well-being Sub-Committee of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) and is a Fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects. Jerry is also on the Board of Advisors of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network and is a first-time blogger. The image to the right is one of the beautiful garden courtyards at Dublin Methodist Hospital in Dublin, OH that Jerry designed while at Karlsberger.

Many thanks, Jerry!