Preserving our sanity: heritage as a health issue

Margie_Paul Janes Walk 2014

Margie Zeidler and Paul Bedford lead one of Toronto’s 139 Jane’s Walks last weekend. Revitalized buildings such as 401 Richmond are irreplaceable public health assets.  

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Rarely is heritage preservation talked about as a mental health issue. Yet during the Jane’s Walk I convened last Sunday, “How Healthy is This Place: A Visual Critique,” participants felt that visual connections to the past, and layers of natural evolution (v. sudden mass re-development) affected their state of mind. They also saw the positive health benefits of “weathered” natural imperfection, spontaneity and real human emotion.

In other words, they cared about a “visual diet” that includes variety consisting of  both new and revitalized places that connect with street life and nature.

By contrast, we can feel disoriented, alienated and even depressed in settings that are anonymous and lacking emotional attachment.

CAUTION sign

A visual diet of empty calories causes dis-ease

Heritage preservation makes us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. Links to meaningful stories are an antidote to urban alienation. And as one of my walk participants pointed out, there is a growing body of research indicating that our brains benefit from the stimulation of authenticity, variety, nature, vitality and a sense of legacy.

JanesWalk 2014 How Healthy is this place

Thumbs up to these Jane’s Walk participants who provided all the insightful content for my experimental format, based on two basic questions:

What do you see? How does that make you feel?  

– Sharon VanderKaay

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