Book Review: Healthy and Therapeutic Gardens

Book Review: Healthy and Therapeutic Gardens

Résumé en français

Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Well-Being

  • Author: Gayle Souter-Brown
  • Title of the publication: Landscape and Urban Design for     Health and Well-Being
  • Publisher and place: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Books,     2014
  • Price in Euros: €46.57
  • Number of pages and illustrations: 340 Pages
Book Cover

Why should we be concerned about healthy landscapes? The author suggests that unprecedented economic, political, social and environmental change demand a concerted response from landscape architecture and urban design professionals. Increasing pressure in urban communities, loss of biodiversity, and diminishing associated ecosystem services require that we have informed and evidence-based design processes to counteract increasing challenges of physical and mental health and general well-being.  In this context of rapid and unpredictable changes, designing green open spaces for the health andwell-being of communities become even more poignant.

Souter-Brown’s book,Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Well-Being,stands out among other books addressing healing garden environments published in the last ten years.  It focuses on health and well-being, addresses the disciplines that shape the design of our public domain in cities, and is an excellent resource for practitioners and students alike. It more particularly should appeal to those engaged in creating private and public spaces to support human health and well-being. The book is rich with 210 illustrations, including the author’s drawings and sketches in fourteen chapters grouped into four parts. PartI addresses the evolution of healing gardens, their relevance and the irrelationship to healthy and sustainable communities. Part II presents categories of the different users of healing gardens as well as a cost-benefit analysis of healing gardens in urban settings. Part III discusses the process, principles and guidelines and the critical elements of salutogenic design. And finally, the resources of funding and the how-to of developing community green spaces are addressed in Part IV.

Correlation of exposure to nature and how it affects stress and quality of life
Public green space in Brisbane, Australia

The author has proposed effective methods and approaches to cost reduction and value addition in outdoor spaces drawing on evidence of the positive effects of the designed landscape. She draws on principles from a range of designed places such as sensory, therapeutic and healing gardens. There is increasing attention to creating healthcare or healing environments with a better understanding of the links between body and mind. How landscape and urban design disciplines respond to this knowledge become seven more critical for both practice and, more importantly, the community because of the global upheavals currently being witnessed.

Souter-Brown argues that unlike previously when we had anecdotal evidence, we now have abundant research revealing the correlation between environmental exposure and positive health outcomes. This position supports an increase of open spaces in urban areas, especially in the face of a growing global concern for deteriorating human well-being and anincreasing burden of non-communicable diseases associated with sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles. While granting that there is room for further research, the author states that we have a responsibility to act with available evidence in the design of healing landscapes which contributes to achieving positive economic and public health outcomes.

Tracing the development of gardens in diverse cultural settings and their importance for spiritual, welfare,educational and healing purposes, she notes that healing gardens are not a new invention but have been an integral part of ancient societies. In the past,people accessed nature and gardens as a matter of course in their everyday occupations.Souter-Brown establishes a clear connection between modern living conditions separated from nature and our deteriorating mental and physical well-being.  She argues that landscape-based interventions such as well-designed public open spaces and healing gardens can be remedied,especially in urban settings impacted by rapid urbanisation.

The author highlights the importance of open space for human health in combating non-communicable and lifestyle diseases in a fast-paced world. She raises concern over urban degradation,which results from capital flight, impacting especially mobile populations. She argues that governments cannot tackle these ills with their associated healthcare costs as pathogenic diseases, but innovative solutions are better placed and economically affordable to address these needs. Sustainably designed spaces are essential for children and adults, non-disabled and disabled members of society across all income spectrums. Contrary to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, Souter-Brown proposes a new way of looking at human needs, suggesting a wheel of needs with nature as the hub.  Withhumans meeting their needs in doses from each cluster, with nature as the facilitator.

Wheels of needs

The strength of this book lies in four thrusts: research, case studies, experience and accessibility. The author has drawn from research as a basis of inquiry and supports the principles and approaches she proposes. This approach is vital as both health and design professionals are increasingly asking for evidence-based decision making. Two,case studies are particularly important for professionals and students alike as they communicate and link, in a reasonably accessible manner, theory and the everyday tangible space. Souter-Brown has drawn extensively from international case studies to illustrate the ideas advocated in the book. Three, drawing on experience forms a credible witness to the ideas presented in the book. The author presents work from her practice, opening a new layer of inspiration and a this–is-how–to-do-it practicality. And four, the book is written in straightforward language. Souter-Brown primarily wrote the book for design, health and education professionals; yet, it is devoid of architectural jargon and accessible to the general public.  

Souter-Brown has demonstrated with appropriate case studies the benefits of landscape-based solutions, which show how healing,sensory and therapeutic gardens can reconnect people with nature to enhance health and well-being. Such landscapes are not constrained to healthcare but everyday landscapes such as workplaces,neighbourhoods and schools. Landscape and Urban Design for Health andWell-Being; Using Healing, Sensory and Therapeutic Gardens is significant as professionals consider building liveable, healthy and sustainablehuman-centred cities.  I highly recommend it to all landscape and urban design schools and practitioners working with public spaces.