BGI was awarded The Nature Sacred Award from the TKF Foundation in order to undertake a study to explore how landscape immersion has restorative benefits that may positively affect life outcomes for urban residents who are often alienated from nature.

The Issue

Human health and the environmental health are inexorably linked. Immersion in nature can provide the experience of a ‘getaway from normal life,’ relieve stress and help restore attention. There is a growing body of research documenting that the regular experience of nature-like settings positively impacts children’s intellectual, emotional and social development and of the restorative benefits of landscape immersion on people of all ages. According to research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology:

The quality of urban environments is increasingly recognised to contribute to human health and well-being. The supply and maintenance of health-promoting areas and elements within urban areas such as green spaces are suggested to support residents’ possibilities to cope with everyday stress and to have a beneficial effect on human health (Frumkin, 2001; Maas, Verheij, Groenewegen, de Vries, & Spreeuwenberg, 2006; Maller,Townsend, Pryor, Brown, & St Leger, 2005; Nilsson, Baines, & Konijnendijk, 2007).

The continuing urbanisation process and pressures on existing green spaces, however, challenge the adequate provision of these areas. In urban planning processes, the health and well-being benefits of nature areas are not fully acknowledged and therefore, their provision is difficult to justify faced with competing land-use interests (e.g. Tyrväinen, Pauleit, Seeland, & de Vries, 2005).

In modern urbanised societies, acute and chronic stress, and insufficient recovery from stress, are recognised as an increasing problem and a cause for long-term effects on health (McEwen, 1998; Sluiter, Frings-Dresen, Meijman, & van der Beek, 2000). Stress is an important public health concern that is related to mental health problems such as burnout syndrome as well as cardiovascular, gastroenterological, immunological and neurological diseases (Nilsson, Sangster, & Konijnendijk, 2011).

The Solution

The Naval Cemetery Landscape will provide opportunities for escape and relief from the built environment where visitors may engage in contemplation and reflection and momentarily sever the connection with the thoughts and feelings that sustain stress in their minds and bodies. The site is also the venue for a 4-year longitudinal study of the effects of landscape immersion on populations that are largely alienated from the natural environment.

The highlights
  • This study will evaluate how expansion of biodiversity and quantity of natural life will impact the physical and mental well-being of high school students and community housing residents.
  • This project will test whether landscape immersion offers a cost-effective, equitable and accessible strategy for restoration of human health and well-being in urban contexts.

BGI and its team of researchers have partnered with The Green School of East Williamsburg and Brooklyn Community Housing and Services to develop the space and study the effects of nature on high school students and community housing residents.

The project’s research team, led by Denise Milstein, PhD,Director of Columbia University’s Masters Program in Sociology is collecting observations and data on the students and residents to assess their reaction and response to the natural space as it develops. The primary intent of the project is to evaluate the extent to which exposure to a natural site impacts people’s engagement with their surroundings, society, and school.

The research will result in a peer reviewed published article on the projects findings. It is one of six research projects funded by the TKF Foundation’s Nature Sacred Program nationally.

A goal of this project is to support an understanding that there is an economic benefit to society of providing nearby opportunities for landscape immersion that contribute to personal resiliency and as a result to life outcomes that are less costly to society.

nature sacred

Video of Students at The Green School