One World Garden (OWG) is a 1/2 acre sacred space being proposed in the heart of one of NY State’s most impoverished older industrial cities, Utica, NY. It offers contact with nature to a high percentage of individuals of lower socioeconomic status experiencing significant life stresses. Most importantly, it is a short walk from the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees and neighborhoods that are now home to the highest percentage of refugees currently living in this UN designated refugee resettlement city.
The proposal to create a public garden in a city where 1 in 6 citizens are refugees focuses on strengthening community and enhancing the recovery process for immigrants and refugees who have experienced war, violence, and dislocation. The OWG Project is motivated and supported by a growing body of research and evidence suggesting that urban green-scapes play an important role in the positive assimilation of refugees.
OWG’s schematic design and research planning phase was undertaken with an Open Spaces Sacred Places Planning Grant in Spring 2012 and responds to OSSP’s call to “create significant new sacred public green spaces in urban settings that demonstrate a combination of high quality design-build and rigorous research about user impacts.” An interdisciplinary team of designers, researchers, and community partners engaged in a 6-month design process including community meetings and collaborative visioning sessions. From that process emerged many of the gardens signature features slated to be realized in participatory design/build sessions involving Utica’s diverse multi-cultural refugee community and local citizenry. Incorporating community members and intended users in the planning, design, and construction process extends the impact of this space by fostering community building and place attachment, lending greater meaning to the OWG for those involved in its creation.
Founded on the principles of Attention Restoration Theory (ART; Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995), OWG 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 were inspired by the fundamental elements described in attention restoration theory. The nature oasis, located within the heart of the city creates a sense sanctuary, or being away. The experience of soft fascination is found in the interconnecting gardens that are discovered via a path network that experientially expands discovery, provides a sense of extent, and invites exploration. OWG’s passive nature, intimacy and areas for repose, journey, reflection, meditation, and group gathering combine to foster compatibility with its designated users’ needs for renewal, retreat, social contact and restoration.
A five year research project has been created to examine the influence of OWG’s nature on both individual and community well-being in a context of great challenge and adversity. Following the theme of resilience and transformation, the research will use both qualitative and quantitative methods focusing on 1) the role of nature in refugees’ resettlement experience; 2) nature as a “resilience resource” that bolsters individuals in the face of risk and adversity; 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 theorists and practitioners alike seeking to understand the dose-response relation between the natural environment and resilience. It also hopes to inform policy makers seeking to develop and implement evidence-based ‘green’ intervention strategies aimed at refugee resettlement areas as well as impoverished, urban neighborhoods.