Unlimited urban woods (sort of) and directed attention fatigue

photo by Pieter Kers, on local ecologist courtesy of Hedwig Heinsman of DUS

Leave it to architects in Amsterdam to come up with this quirky, creative idea to help alleviate directed attention fatigue. DUS Architects Amsterdam describes their single tree inside four mirrored walls as a “never-ending forest in the middle of town.” As explained in the local ecologist post from a little while ago where I found this, the pavilion was displayed in front of the New Amsterdam Public Library this summer. From the outside, it looks like a square, white box. From this inside, it looks like this picture to the left.

Local ecologist admits that this installation does not fulfill vital ecosystem functions that make an urban forest so valuable. But it does make us think about directed attention fatigue. University of Michigan professors Rachel and Stephen Kaplan were among the first academics to study the psychological effects of nature, and they are still working to produce more research demonstrating natural settings’ “profound, positive effect on both mental and physical health.” The Kaplans have shown that working in nature, gardening, taking a walk in the woods, or even enjoying a view of trees from a window can reduce stress and improve people’s health, from cancer patients and caregivers to regular city-dwellers. A natural place “doesn’t have to be big or pristine” to have a positive effect, claims Rachel Kaplan. “Most of all, it has to be nearby.”

How much does a park or natural area near you affect your health and well-being? Small pocket parks and large expanses of greenbelts affect us in ways we might not always know or appreciate. I know that, as a city-dweller myself, my quality of life is much improved by having them around. If you give back by volunteering at an upcoming work party in Seattle, Tacoma, Redmond, Kirkland, or Kent, you ensure that these areas remain healthy enough to keep us healthy for years to come. And then get the return on your investment: take a walk or bike ride through them, meet a friend there, play, read a book, or otherwise take time to give your directed attention a rest.

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