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Posts Tagged ‘public health’

BY ZACH MORTICE

Mulan Primary School in Huaiji County, Guangdong, China, by Rural Urban Framework and the Power of Love. Photo Courtesy of Rural Urban Framework.

John Cary’s book Design for Good (Island Press, 2017) details a now familiar formulation for do-good design in the developing world: a western architect working closely with local partners, using local materials assembled to respect vernacular traditions and modern aesthetics, employing local labor trained as an act of grassroots economic development.

From the remotest outposts of developing-world privation to the forgotten places much closer to home that exist in the shadow of great wealth, Cary (the former executive director of Public Architecture, the public-impact design nonprofit) advocates on behalf of design for dignity. “Dignity,” he writes, “is about knowing your intrinsic worth and seeing that worth reflected in the places you inhabit.” It’s not an aesthetic goal, or a measure of the designer’s saintly ambitions. It’s a quality of the users’ experience.

The building types he examines are familiar (Rural Urban Framework’s Mulan Primary School, supportive housing by Michael Maltzan for the recently homeless in Los Angeles’s Skid Row) and totally singular to their contexts. There’s MASS Design Group’s cholera treatment center in Haiti made necessary by the region’s devastation from a 2010 earthquake that piled onto what was already the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Also by MASS (Cary’s prototypical standard-bearer for his generation’s inequity-attuned designers) are “maternal waiting homes” in Malawi. These combat sky-high maternal mortality rates by creating lodging near health clinics for women in the last weeks of pregnancy, assuring quality medical attention when they give birth. Atlanta’s BeltLine, the most landscape-oriented project profiled, forges a new landscape type out of a disused rail corridor: a network of greenway trails that loop an entire city.

Quoting the social activist Dorothy Day, Cary calls for places like these that create a (more…)

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Landscapes of Longevity is a feature-length documentary that spans cultural landscape theory, public health research, and narrative filmmaking to answer a question that affects every person: How does one’s environment affect the length and quality of one’s life?

After summarizing how planning traditions engineered physical activity and social connection out of much of the built environment, creating an “obesogenic cultural landscape,” the film seeks out locations that avoided these urban planning pitfalls, and exist as a sort of reasonably modest fountain of youth. While they were landscape architecture graduate students at the University of Virginia, directors Asa Eslocker and Harriett Jameson chronicled the epic stair-climbing abilities of nonagenarians on the Italian island of Sardinia, visited kimono weavers in Japan well into their 10th decade, and walked the lemon groves of Loma Linda, California, with their 93-year-old caretaker.

The film began as a research project by Eslocker and Jameson, which earned a 2014 ASLA Student Honor Award, and later a 2015 ASLA Student Award of Excellence once the pair started to translate their work into a movie. It pays equal attention to how the design of space, both public and private, can affect physical, psychological, social, and spiritual health. And by comparing the environments in each of their case study locations, they uncover a set of landscape features that seem to enhance longevity and quality of life by simply existing: elevated views that enhance attachment to place, visual landmarks on horizons, and opportunities for immersion in nature. Again and again, the common denominator for a long and healthy life is connection: to people, places, and the world around you. As Landscapes of Longevity makes clear, that’s a value set uniquely suited to landscape architects.

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