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Human Health & Well-being

Site design sometimes ignores the human benefits of healthy, green environments and fails to provide opportunities for physical activity, restorative and aesthetic experiences, and social interaction.  However, research indicates that the natural environment plays a much more important role in human health and well-being.

In addition to performing biogeochemical functions, healthy ecosystems are the source of the many less tangible—but very real and measurable—benefits that humans derive from a relationship with nature. These benefits are especially important to the more than 80 percent of Americans who live in cities and towns.

Examples of Sustainable Practices

Make the site user-friendly
People are more likely to use sites that are easily accessible and safe.  Think about ways to make users feel safe by improving visibility, showing signs of human care and maintenance, and making it easy for users to orient themselves. 

Sites that are easy to navigate enhance users’ sense of safety, minimize their anxiety, and improve their environmental awareness.1,2

Research by social scientists and psychologists shows that, for both adults and children, encounters with everyday nature—a green view from an office window, a lunchtime stroll through a nearby park, well-tended landscapes around schools—restore the ability to concentrate, calm feelings of anxiety, and reduce aggression.3

Focus on natural views
Locate building windows and seating areas in front of beautiful views like large trees and water features, including those used for stormwater management.  Screen visual or noisy distractions to enhance the restorative benefits of views.

Educate site users and keep culture and history alive
Highlight sustainable components and practices on the site with educational, interpretive, and interactive elements.  Help visitors understand environmentally responsible behavior and translate the lessons learned to off-site situations at home, school, and work. Engage site users and neighbors to reveal local knowledge, cultural legacies, and community needs. Reflect the culture or history of the site.

Daily moderate activity by individuals decreases the incidence of such chronic diseases as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Improved health generates significant savings in health care costs.4

A series of studies of inner-city neighborhoods finds that green spaces with trees contribute to healthier, more supportive patterns of interrelations among residents, including greater sharing of resources.5

Provide spaces for mental restoration, social interaction, and physical activity
Make the site comfortable by including elements like wind breaks, shading, appropriate lighting, and movable furniture.  Draw people to the area with features like game tables, dining areas, art, and a wireless internet connection. Site design can provide the space and facilities for greater physical activity. More active lifestyles combat obesity, improve cardiovascular health, and increase longevity.6 

[1] Luymes, DT and D Tamminga. 1995. Integrating public safety and use into planning urban greenways. Landscape and Urban Planning 33: pp. 391-400.=

[2] Huelat, BJ. 2007. Wayfinding: Design for understanding (Center for Health Design). http://www.healthdesign.org/advocacy/adgroups/documents/WayfindingPositionPaper_000.pdf.
[3] Wolf, K. 1998. Urban nature benefits: psycho-social dimensions of people and plants. Fact sheet from course in Human Dimensions of the Urban Forest. University of Washington, College of Forest Resources, Center for Urban Horticulture.
[4] Wolf, K. 2005. Civic Nature Valuation: Assessments of Human Functioning and Well-Being in Cities. In: Forging Solutions: Applying Ecological Economics to Current Problems, Proceedings of the 3rd Biennial Conference of the US Society for Ecological Economics (July 20-23, 2005). Tacoma, WA: Earth Economics.
[5] Kuo, F.E. 2003. The role of arboriculture in a healthy social ecology. Journal of Arboriculture 29, 3:148-155.
[6] Transportation Research Board (TRB). 2005. Does the Built Environment Influence Physical Activity?: Examining the Evidence. TRB Special Report 282. Committee on Physical Activity, Health, Transportation, and Land e, TRB, National Research Council, Washington, D.C.