From Green Right Now Reports

It’s long been known that green spaces can help counter the sterility of concrete cities and provide places for reflection and respite. That’s why we have Central Park, Forest Park, Golden Gate Park, the National Mall and countless other urban parks.

But are these places best as gathering spots or do they also confer real healing effects? Can they increase human resilience and improve our feeling of well-being? The TKF Foundation wants to find out and it has put some serious money, $4.5 million, into a variety of projects that will seek the answers while also contributing new nature spots to places in need of healing.

The TKF National Nature Sacred Awards, announced this week, will help build a base of knowledge about the “transformational power of nature” in urban settings, which can in turn help residents anywhere take this message to their local leaders.

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Concept drawing for Cunningham Park in Joplin.

“In a time when we are more and more surrounded by the built world, beset by ever increasing stress and overwhelmed by technology, the need for open and sacred places in nature is more important than ever,” said Tom Stoner, founder of the TKF Foundation, which has helped create 130 Open Spaces Sacred Places over the last 15 years.

Among the winners of this year’s grants are Joplin, MO, which has been rebuilding since a E-5 tornado leveled a swath of the city in May 2011, and Queens, N.Y., slammed by Hurricane Sandy last year.  Both will participate in a project dubbed “Landscapes of Resilience” that will look at the restorative power of communal green spaces.

Cornell University Professor Keith Tidball, an associate director of the university’s Civic Ecology Lab, and Erika Svendsen, a social scientist with the U.S. Forest Service in New York, will study how new open space and sacred places can help these communities recover from crisis and deal with ongoing concerns about their vulnerability to weather events.

Cunningham Park in Joplin will be expanded as part of the work; an area in Queens yet to be approved also will be improved.

The sites will reflect what Tidball has learned in traveling the world to disaster sites and former war zones, that people need places of quiet and remembrance where they can reconnect with nature. This is a consistent need, he said, that is often ignored by those in power.

“I started to see how these relationships with people are really important — and unfortunately often overlooked in the policy worlds.”

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A concept drawing of the “Green Road” planned for Walter Reed Military Medical Center.

Other projects funded by the National Nature Sacred Awards include:

A Naval Cemetery Landscape — The project in Brooklyn, N.Y. will construct a sustainable landscape, complete with high levels of biodiverse activity, that will allow visitors to escape from the built environment and achieve psychological restoration.

The Green Road —In Bethesda, MD , the Institute for Integrative Health will build an outdoor space for wounded soldiers, families, caregivers and staff on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It’s set to include a stream-side path as well as places for contemplation and commemoration.

A Greenspace a Day — This project in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Md. region will study existing Open Spaces Sacred Place funded by the TKF greenspaces to examine their impacts on immune system, health, and productivity, across different greenspaces and different populations.

A Nature Place:  Quantifying Benefits of a Healing Garden among Hospital Populations — In Portland, OR, Legacy Health System’s four-season garden at its Family Birth Center and Cardiovascular Care Unit will combine traditional medical expertise with the healing effects of nature to help patients, their families and even health care professionals under stress.

Mechanisms and Design Elements of Restorative Nature Experiences — Researchers in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Md. region will work to determine exactly what it is about nature that has such tremendous effects on our brains and our health, and then create guidelines for the future design of natural spaces.