Posts Tagged ‘salutogenesis’

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.  


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.


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

What if our health became the basis for judging every public space, every building, every workplace and every home?

What if we always asked: How healthy is this place?

There’s no such thing as a neutral space. What we build either causes health or erodes our capacity to thrive.

For specific examples of how design causes health or causes dis-ease, we created this video:

Salutogenic Places: Designed to Thrive”  Five vital signs that add up to design that causes health

– Sharon VanderKaay


“…no country, rich or poor, is immune to bad design…But we have to advocate for (humanized design) and many of us, until now, simply haven’t realized that we deserve better. We couldn’t imagine the alternative. But once you see what good design can do, once you experience it, you can’t unsee it or unexperience it. It becomes a part of your possible…”

– John Cary and Courtney E. Martin in The New York Times, “Dignifying Design


The movement to humanize our built environment needs more people who can analyze the difference between salutogenic and pathogenic places.

One way to acclerate the demand for safe, optimistic and meaningful habitats is to provide criteria for anyone to understand the contrast between the two scenes above.

In our previous post “Beyond drive-by design,” we listed five “Vital Signs” that by no means cover all the elements of a human-centric built environment, but these criteria provide a way to begin a critical conversation.

Let’s shine a light on the blind spots.

-Sharon VanderKaay

NO MAN’S LAND:  What were they thinking?

It’s a common question when confronted with de-natured environments


During the ’50s and ’60s people were haunted by anxieties brought on by the Cold War, Sputnik, and a world that was becoming less and less predictable. When nature–which is naturally unpredictable–disappeared from built environments, such deprivation was generally regarded as an inevitable side-effect of “progress.”

Machines and technology (see the GM Tech Center) were seen as a means of making life more controllable, and therefore a way to reduce anxiety.

De-natured offices, classrooms, conference centres, shopping malls, public plazas and suburbs thus became the norm.

Today there is growing evidence and awareness that de-natured environments cause anxiety, while nature causes health. (see also: biophilia hypothesis and salutogenesis)

The current medical cost crisis has created an urgent need to accelerate the re-naturing of our environments. Sixty years of unhealthy design norms need to be remedied ASAP.

“We designed ourselves into this predicament and we can design ourselves out of it…” says Stephen Kellert in the video, “Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life.”

Well said.

By 1961, an occasional tree would escape the march of progress.

– Sharon VanderKaay

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