This is the Future of Eco Architecture

This is the Future of Eco Architecture

Jenny Roe

Environment, Americas

Access to the shoreline is great, but what about places not on the coast? 

Officials are increasingly recognizing that integrating nature into cities is an effective public health strategy to improve mental health. Doctors around the world now administer “green prescriptions” – where patients are encouraged to spend time in local nature spaces – based on hundreds of studies showing that time in nature can benefit people’s psychological well-being and increase social engagement.

Much of this research to date has focused on the role of green space in improving mental health. But what about “blue” space – water settings such as riverside trails, a lake, a waterfront or even urban fountains?

You probably intuitively know that being close to water can induce feelings of calm. And many poets and artists have attested to the sense of awe and magic that water can evoke. But can it deliver the same wide-ranging benefits that urban green infrastructure brings to mental health? A few studies have shown that water bodies score just as well – if not better – in supporting psychological well-being as compared with “green” nature.

So far the evidence is sparse, though, and mostly limited to coastal settings in Europe. What if you’re in one of the 49 countries in the world, or 27 American states, that are landlocked with no ocean shore? For natural capital to deliver health benefits to people, it needs to be right next to them, integrated into the everyday fabric of their world.

Targeting everyday well-being

If you do have access to blue space, it can make you happier, reduce your stress levels, improve your quality of life and make you more sociable and altruistic.

This was the finding from one study my collaborators and I carried out in West Palm Beach, Florida. A short walk along a downtown waterfront with a design intervention we devised improved both perceived and physiological stress, as measured by heart rate variability.

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