5 Ways Angelenos Are Adding Nature to Boost Our Wellbeing
October 1, 2020. By Cassy Aoyagi: We’ve been fascinated by the connection between our landscaping choices and our health since we started FormLA Landscaping more than 20 years ago. Back then, it came from the joy we ourselves took in LA’s wild, natural spaces. Our fascination has only grown as research ?begins details the benefits of greenery.
The U.S. Green Building Council’s Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo gave us an opportunity to explore this connection. We discussed how the form of LA’s built spaces can be adapted to maximize nature’s positive impact on health in a way that uplifts us all.
Charlene Dimas-Peinado, LCSW, EML, president and CEO of Wellnest set the stage for this conversation, as she explained: “Green space provides a respite for over-stimulated minds. It strongly protects against mood disorders, depression, neurotic behavior and stress related issues – that psychological restoration may be the strongest protective mechanism that green space offers.”
Obviously, the ratio of greenery to concrete varies by community within LA. Rachel O’Leary, program director for City Plants notes the impact of creating a better balance: “Tree canopy is powerhouse infrastructure, and equitably distributing it is one of the most cost effective public infrastructure investments we can make to ensure better public health, mental health, and environmental resilience.”
Investments in greenery may have an amplified impact as Safer at Home orders keep us close to communities. Explains Dimas-Peinado: “The effect of green space is dose-dependent, meaning that those who have longer exposures to green space have greater mental health benefits.”
Luckily, we learned places where we can all dig-in to ensure LA “builds back better” as a result of this tumultuous time! Here are a few of the strategies we discussed for ensuring all Angelenos can get an effective dose of natures medicine.
Build-Back Canopy Together
Drought and development have substantially weakened LA’s tree canopy. City Plants is making progress against the mayor’s vision of adding 90,000 trees to the city. As they provide trees for parkways, parks and private gardens, they work to rebalance the city’s “powerhouse infrastructure.”
Grow Greenery, Nutrition, and Skills
Edibles are also high-impact planting choices, as they add greenery, healthy nutrition, and the potential to layer in programming in related work skills. This is especially true when gardens are managed and enjoyed by the communities in which they are located.
Karen Ramirez, assistant lead and program director, RootDownLA, explains that the “off” time in these gardens can be as important as the programming. Gardens offer more than good, clean food. They create safe spaces for youth. They give kids the chance to connect and relax under a tree. All of it makes a difference.
The residents of many communities known as food deserts have cultures deeply rooted in agriculture. There just aren’t a lot of opportunities for green space. Creating gardens is an opportunity to revitalize culture while also addressing food justice.
Clifford Francis and Garret Johnson work via LA Trade Tech and the Puente Center see places for green space and growing others might overlook. They harness LA’s abundant, and in many cases abandoned, alleyways to add greenways, actually measuring their productivity.
Francis describes the power of these largely untapped spaces: We can create a holistic solution by making the city’s alleys both beautiful and useful. With our environmental monitors, we can see how much solar exposure and moisture an alley receives and predict how much food we can produce.
Their neighborhood centered approach ensures the upkeep of the green infrastructure they build. Garret Johnson notes that for a community garden to succeed, the community needs to be involved in imagining and creating it. Captains in the community guide each project. LA Trade Tech provides the technology that helps with design and projections data.
Make Our Private Space a Public Good
Brandy Williams, founder of Garden Butterfly, notes: “In South Central, Compton and Watts, we have people who have lived in the community for generations, still own their homes, and they now want to know how to design and install gardens that support the environment, as well as their health and the health of the community.”
Williams is making it happen, starting with using her own garden as an educational resource.
Re-Envision Recovery and Resilience
As for those organizations charged with our resilience to stress and recovery from trauma and mental health events, Wellnest models how nature and compelling architecture can uplift us. They now actively build residence and recovery centers that maximize green space and program-in effective “doses” of nature into the lives of their residents.
Williams closed the panel with a sentiment that had the whole panel nodding in agreement, emphasizing that LA’s ability to thrive moving forward depends on our ability to take the best of what our diversity brings to the table.
She noted: “We should be unified in our understanding that, here in CA and in LA, there are a lot of different people and different cultures. We all have a stake in the wellbeing of this city, and we’ve all contributed to food culture, the environment, landscaping, engineering and architecture. It may take reading and study to really understand that – it’s worth the investment.”
We couldn’t agree more. We are profoundly grateful to live in a city with so many good people digging in to ensure the health and wellbeing of one another!
How we maintain our natural spaces can have as dramatic an impact as their design and placement. Here are just a few tips for maintaining spaces in ways that protect health.