Dr. Chalfont is a leading practitioner in the art and science of healing gardens, therapeutic spaces, and dementia gardens that incorporate the natural world into the healing process. He designs and builds engaging outdoor spaces in dementia care environments and leads hands-on training workshops to facilitate their active and enjoyable use by residents, staff, and families. In his research, he explores the benefits of the natural world for holistic health (mind, body, and soul), in particular how nature contributes to prevention of (and healing from) dementia.
What inspires you to do work in the therapeutic landscape?
When I first got into it, I felt that the healing qualities of nature were hugely undervalued and underused in landscape architecture and garden design. The emphasis was on visual qualities rather than a person’s lived experience of spending time outdoors and actually using the space. In care environments, that was predominantly the case. Over the years, I have witnessed and experienced positive changes in the mental and emotional health of a wide range of people through engagement with nature and the outdoors. There is an ethical imperative, that people have a birth-right to receive healing from nature and not be deprived of it.
Cades Cove, Natchez Trace State Park, and Percy Priest Lake are just a couple of Tennessee’s most popular campgrounds, in this state with an abundance of sites for outdoor adventures. But coming soon, on November 20 and 21 only, there’ll be a new gathering spot in Nashville for landscape architects and landscape architecture enthusiasts: ASLA’s Practice Basecamp. Located on the EXPO floor, this will be the place to be, rain or shine, the weekend of the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture, taking place live and in-person November 19-22, 2021.
Register by this Thursday, October 14, and save $130.
Practice Basecamp will be the EXPO’s hub for a range of practice-focused programming, including:
Engaging campfire sessions organized by ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs)
Continue the Conversation with select education session presenters
Fast-paced Game Changer presentations
Presentations from ASLA’s Climate Action Committee and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS)
Many of these sessions are designed to be opportunities to meet and network with other ASLA members and conference attendees. The Professional Practice Network (PPN)-organized campfire sessions, for instance, will be conversation-focused, allowing for peer-to-peer learning and knowledge-sharing. And perhaps best of all: no has to remember to unmute in order to participate.
This last year has provided an awakening on issues of equality and our environment. One issue in particular that impacts communities nationwide and can be enhanced by landscape architects, is the ease of access and quality of parks. This topic of access to quality parks and open space has been given emphasis throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as parks and open space became vital places to work, live, learn, heal, and seek refuge. Coupled with looming environmental challenges and the ability for parks and open space to help protect and mitigate these impacts, there has never been a better time to focus our attention on the topic of creating healthy and equitable parks. This is our call to action.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, communities of color and those in stressed socio-economic areas have suffered from the inability to social distance and recreate in a safe and therapeutic environment. This adversity has compounded existing health issues impacting these communities, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity which are intertwined among various other environmental health hazards and conditions. Many of these communities are also at higher risk of adverse environmental impacts and are typically at a higher risk of displacement or damage due to extreme weather events. Considering the current impacts of COVID and future challenges they face from changing environmental conditions, one thing is evident, that immediate attention is needed to address our equity and abundance of parks and open space for the health, safety, and wellbeing of our communities across America.
Though parks and open space may seem like a low priority in budgeting for cities and agencies, it’s time for a paradigm shift to seeing these resources as significant or equal to vital social and healthcare services, as these spaces help to bring communities together and allow for therapeutic opportunities to increase health and physical enjoyment and to connect people with nature. Furthermore, park and open space areas serve as vital green infrastructure for communities facing intensified challenges due to climate change, because they serve as critical space to combat and lower the impacts of potential storms and natural disasters.
The Indigenous burial ground that is currently called “Indian Mounds Regional Park” has been a sacred burial ground for over a thousand years. It is significant to living Indigenous Peoples as a cemetery where their ancestors are buried. It is a place of reverence, remembrance, respect, and prayer. When the City of Saint Paul established a park in this location in 1892 with the purpose of protecting the historical setting and spectacular views, connections of contemporaneous Indigenous Peoples to the sacred site were not understood, considered, or valued.
Over the last century the condition, name, and use of the landscape as a park have become beloved to the surrounding community. Yet many non-Indigenous people have wondered about this powerful landscape without understanding its importance to tribes. Through public gatherings with generous sharing by tribal representatives and members of the public, we learned that the power of this place affects the people who interact with it, and there is a strong desire to protect it as a sacred site.