The Children’s Outdoor Environments and Healthcare & Therapeutic Design Meeting in Review

Joanne Hiromura, ASLA, presents during the joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Healthcare & Therapeutic Design PPNs that took place during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles last month. / image: Alexandra Hay

The 2017 ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (COE PPN) meeting took place with a new twist this year. Recognizing a synergy between PPNs, we held a joint meeting with our colleagues from the Healthcare & Therapeutic Design (HTD) PPN on Saturday afternoon during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles last month. If attendance is an indicator, this new direction was a positive one—an unofficial count of 73 makes it the biggest PPN meeting of the conference. For those of you who attended in person, we thank you for coming!

The meeting began with short summaries of the past year from leadership of both the COE and HTD PPNs. Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, transitioned from current to past co-chair, with Ken Hurst, PhD, MLA, RLA, ASLA, CLARB, CPSI, stepping into the co-chair role with Brenna Castro, PLA, ASLA, CPSI. Amy, along with Chad Kennedy, PLA, ASLA, CPSI, LEED AP BD+C, will be serving as communications co-directors for the PPN. Over the past year, we have continued to be busy. The COE PPN logged nine blog posts for The Field, hosted three Online Learning webinars (one jointly with the HTD PPN), and have averaged three new posts per month for the PPN LinkedIn group. And, Ken Hurst was a mentor for one of the Student & Emerging Professionals SPOTLIGHT presentations that took place this summer.

While we are busily organizing several great webinars and Field posts for the upcoming year, we extend an open invitation for you to consider sharing your knowledge by presenting a webinar or writing a blog post (or several!).

Following these PPN updates, Joanne Hiromura, ASLA, RLA, Director of Landscape and Outdoor Playspace Design at studioMLA Architects in Brookline, MA, and Naomi Sachs, PhD, ASLA, EDAC, Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, provided keynote presentations.

An overview of the nature playspace. / image: studioMLA Architects

Joanne’s talk focused on the almost one acre natural playspace project designed and installed at the Boston Nature Center. The playspace was designed to connect and encourage inner-city children with limited exposure to ‘real’ nature through an innovative, hands-on Nature Based Preschool curriculum. Joanne set the stage for her talk by sharing with us the rich history of the site, formally a mental hospital replete with a vibrant therapeutic garden program for its patients, and then, upon its closing and for many years, a vibrant community garden. Joanne closed her presentation with a wonderful argument for the therapeutic value of nature playspaces, particularly for children (and caregivers) with fears of and little experience with nature.

Entering the nature playspace / image: studioMLA Architects
Building together / image: studioMLA Architects
Messy play / image: studioMLA Architects
The boardwalk / image: studioMLA Architects

Naomi Sachs was unfortunately unable to attend the meeting in person, but did the next best thing—made a detailed and compelling video of findings from her dissertation study for us to view. The development of the Healthcare Garden Evaluation Toolkit (H-GET) for evaluation, research, and design of healthcare facility gardens marks a huge step forward in evidence-based design. Undoubtedly, the assessments that comprise the H-GET are going to become widely used by designers, administrators, and healthcare practitioners seeking to better understand the effectiveness of their healthcare gardens.

Naomi Sachs’ presentation / image: material copyrighted by Naomi Sachs
The GATE assessment tool / image: material copyrighted by Naomi Sachs
Behavior mapping / image: material copyrighted by Naomi Sachs

One surprising finding from Naomi’s surveys of patients, visitors, and staff was that both groups (patients/visitors and staff) were not as opposed sharing a garden as had been hypothesized. But as Naomi pointed out, this new evidence “doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t create separate gardens for staff; it just means that stakeholders (including staff!) should be consulted first, and the gardens have to be sited and planned carefully so that staff can best utilize them.”

Staff survey findings / image: material copyrighted by Naomi Sachs
Unexpected findings in the staff survey / image: material copyrighted by Naomi Sachs
image: material copyrighted by Naomi Sachs
Survey set up and recruitment of participants / image: material copyrighted by Naomi Sachs

We extend our deepest gratitude to Joanne and Naomi for their presentations, and extend a giant thanks to all who attended to make this meeting a success.

by Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Principal of design+cOnsulTation, and Chad Kennedy, ASLA, P.L.A., CPSI, LEED®AP BD+C, Principal Landscape Architect at O’Dell Engineering. Amy and Chad are co-communications directors for the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN.

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