SOCIAL INCLUSION and PLACEMAKING in PUBLIC SPACE

Public space has a very important role to play in fostering social inclusion in Utica where pluralism is flourishing. Research shows that quality public space and placemaking are beneficial to individual and collective physical and psychological health and for refugees’ recovering from trauma and displacement, valuable in restoring health and nurturing emplacement. But opportunities for reaping health benefits from public space–for refugees and others– are often absent or hindered due to a range of factors.

For example, as evidenced by constrict theory, increases in ethnic heterogeneity and diversity often trigger heightened social isolation and anomie (Putman, 2007). Social isolation is further perpetuated by distressed and disused public spaces lacking sociability and activity, as is the case in Utica, NY. Such disused, vacant, derelict, sterile, unsafe and unwelcoming public spaces deny opportunities to develop and strengthen social connections and place attachments.

One World Garden is grounded in a growing body of research affirming that urban parks and greenscapes foster greater physical and mental health, and social and cultural assimilation and inclusion. The One World Garden will honor and promote Utica’s pluralistic distinctiveness through its design and its companion programming which will be directed to building bridges across difference. It will draw people together–refugees and non-refugees alike– into a welcoming, inclusive and vibrant place offering opportunities for building social connections and affective bonds between people and people, between people and place and between people and nature.

RESTORATIVE NATURE

Sacred Spaces to benefit distressed people and places: One World Garden’s design and research planning was supported by an 2012 Open Spaces Sacred Places (OSSP) Planning Grant following OSSP’s national call for high quality designs informed by rigorous research. Open Spaces Sacred Places: The Healing Power of Nature is a National Award Program of the TKF Foundation. OSSP Gardens. which are now part of the national organization called Nature Sacred are created to support the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of individuals living in challenging urban environments.  They are also places for conducting research as they provide tangible evidence related to the direct impacts –for individuals and communities– of encountering and experiencing nature in an urban setting.

Desired Outcomes of OSSP Projects

  • Creation of new OSSP’s in stressful urban environments so people can gain the opportunity for deeper human experience in nature.
  • Applied research studying OSSP impacts and efficacy related to improved human health and well-being.
  • Empirical findings enhancing understandings of the value of nearby urban nature in human health and well-being, and supporting evidence-based urban planning and community design.
  • Development of best practices and methods for cross-disciplinary collaboration in developing, implementing, and studying creative nature-based approaches in today’s cities.
  • Establishment of a national network of OSSP garden demonstration and study sites.

Can nature affect my thoughts? from TKF Foundation on Vimeo.

Attention Restoration Theory (ART): Drawing on the principles of Attention Restoration Theory (ART; Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995), One World Garden is designed to provide a restorative space, fostering resilience and transformation for the individuals who use it. The physical layout and configuration of the OWG are inspired by the fundamental elements described in attention restoration theory.

As a nature oasis OWG will contrast with the dominant hardscape of Utica’s downtown and create an experience of  being away.  The experience of soft fascination will be found in garden’s interconnecting gardens that are discovered via a path network involving aesthetic experiences of discovery, extent, and exploration. OWG will be a passive and tranquil sanctuary offering  daily repose, reflection, meditation, and opportunities for social contact and gathering with friends and groups.

POST-CONSTRUCTION RESEARCH on the GARDEN’S OUTCOMES

A five year research project has been created to examine the influence of OWG’s nature on both individual and community well-being.  Following the theme of resilience and transformation, the research will use both qualitative and quantitative methods focusing on such things as  1) the role of nature in social assimilation and inclusion  2) nature as a “resilience resource”  and 3) nature’s capacity to enhance community well-being and resilience evidenced by physical, economic, and social indicators. This research aims to generate knowledge relevant to citizens, civic leaders, policy-makers, practitioners and researchers alike.