A Forest Walk Is good for you: Here’s the Data

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Want to Boost Your Well-Being & Mental Health? Go For a Walk in the Woods Now

Want to feel better about yourself quickly? Get out into a forest for a walk.

It has been known for a while that getting out in nature boosts mental and physical health, but no one has quantified what that value was to health care systems. A study done by Forest Research in the United  Kingdom was the first to come up with some monetary figures.

Going for a walk in nature means “fewer doctor visits and prescription, reduced hospital and social service care, and reduced lost days of work”.  The Japanese refer to this as “forest bathing”.

And here’s something very interesting: the study showed that street trees in urban places “cut an additional 16 million pounds (24.4 in Canadian dollars)  from antidepressant costs”.

Damian Carrington in The Guardian notes that while the pandemic has increased mental illness, “green prescribing” getting people to go for a walk in nature helps. In the survey work done by Forest Research,  “90 percent of respondents said woodlands were important to them in reducing stress”.

You can take a look at the actual study with principal researcher Vadim Saraev here.

The information is clear: if people spend just thirty minutes a week in a forest grove, they feel better. And the data proves it: the annual mental health benefits of visiting woodlands and forest groves are estimated to be 185 million pounds or 317.5 million Canadian dollars.

That means this research makes the case for continued investment in forests and city treescapes for mental and physical well-being, not only for sustainability, shade and mitigating climate change.

The research also shows that you don’t particularly need to do anything in the forest, that walking and sitting is just as good. As Dr. William Bird has previously said, looking at a cellphone screen does not count, your field of vision and senses need to be taken up by the woodland.

There was also a study in Australia where visits to green spaces of at least thirty minutes lowered depression rates by seven percent.  You can take a look at this study from Brisbane in 2020 here, that concluded the need for green space during the pandemic was vital for well-being.

Another British study showed that a two hour visit in nature weekly significantly increased “wellbeing”.  This was the first study to ascertain how much time was needed to be in nature to get an effect, and predicted that in the future “two hours in nature could join five a day of fruit and vegetables and 150 minutes of exercise a week as official health advice.

Access to these wooded areas and forests needs to be more easier: in England only 63 percent of people visit the woods once a year. That number increases to 80 percent in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Of those people that visit the woods several times a month,  half of those people are in Scotland.

Some of that advice about walking in the wods for mental health already seems to be followed in Metro Vancouver.  Neal Carley, General Manager of Parks, Planning and the Environment for Metro Vancouver states that the regional parks have been  discovered and heavily used during the pandemic. With a normal visitor volume of 12 million visits annually,  Metro Vancouver parks had  16.5 million visits in 2020 and 17 million visits in 2021.

Here’s a quick virtual walk in the woods below. Please note this video does not substitute for your own walk and time in a local forest.

Top image:Town&Country

Public Art: Public Statement

Why We Like Big Things in Public Art

In a conversation with a well known local journalist, I asked her to name the number of statues she knows that are of women in Canada. Together we could only think of three or four in the whole country.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation has a list of statues and monuments to women and mention four statues nationally.  I would add in a fifth statue to the list, the Emily Carr statue in Victoria.

A statue is described as a “free-standing sculpture” where a realistic life size person or animal is depicted either by carving or by cast. They have been around for millennia, and one is often the first object taught in university art history classes.

In Roman times, having a statue of yourself depicted great status, and having a public statue of yourself showed you were effective in politics or business. In the 20th century many statues are built to commemorate important events and figures. It was not until the 1920’s and 1930’s that statues started to have more abstract forms. Henry Moore was one of the  British artists that brought abstract art into mainstream acceptance.

In Brockville Ontario a sculpture on Blockhouse Island  attracts young children to it, mainly girls. It is this one below, and it would be a sixth entry to the Canadian list of statues about women.

The scale of it is close to human size, and approachable. It is also local design, being the creation of secondary school students at the Thousand Islands Secondary School.

Installed in a  2011 ceremony called the  “Voices of Hope” it is a tribute to women who experience violence and to the people who work to stop it. It is a difficult subject and sometimes a taboo topic, but is approachable and accessible, with the two figures holding birds aloft. It is described as a “symbol of hope for a violence free community”.

There is little written in the newspapers about this statue, but the fact it exists brings forward a topic that should be centred, and allows for the contemplation of the topic in a park environment.

Today, November 25 is also the United Nations designated day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. There is a monument in Thornton Park called the Marker of Change recognizing the 14 women killed at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, but it is not figurative. It contains a series of 14 pink granite benches recognizing the 14 lives.

While there is much discussion about statues that need contextual interpretation to be relevant, there are others that probably should be put away in a museum or gallery that can explore why it was appropriate for the time, and what cultural reference it has for social mores of its era. An example is the 70 year old  Theodore  Roosevelt statue which is politely called “troubling” . The statue is being removed from its location in front of the Museum of Natural History in New York and shipped to North Dakota.

Vancouver itself is not without controversy about statues. One example is the Terry Fox Monument that was constructed in 1984 near BC Place.   Vancouver Sun’s Jeff Lee  describes it this way “I’ve yet to find more than a handful of people who appreciate the architectural folly with its glass fibre lions and unworking projection screen atop a fat arch. Most people have a visceral reaction, still hating the Franklin Allen-designed monument. After 27 years, the pink stucco-style faux Beaux-Artes memorial still evokes a negative reaction from many.”

The post-modernist monument designed by Franklin Allen was selected by a committee headed up by Architect Arthur Erickson. The monument is very 1980’s, with its very shell pink exterior and neoclassical design.

No one really knew what it was or who it represented.  This YouTube video below has some typical responses.

It was demolished and replaced in 2011 by a more figurative sculpture of Terry Fox designed  by artist and author Douglas Coupland.

And it’s the Coupland work on that spot today.You can see the YouTube video below unveiling Douglas Coupland’s Terry Fox sculpture with former Premiere Christy Clark doing the honours.

images: VancouverSun & sandyjames

Our Christmas Wish~Public Washrooms Near All Transit Stations

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We have been wondering why Metro Vancouver’s TransLink does not have a system of continuous public internet along the system, and why there are no washrooms, because it is a human need and everyone needs access to washrooms. We have been exploring  those issues for some time.

TransLink has now announced that free access to internet service is coming, and will be offered on SkyTrain, the SeaBus and on transit.

As the Vancouver Sun noted there had been cut and paste internet service offered at SeaBus terminals and on the SeaBus, but service was not extended beyond these locations. Working with Shaw the idea is to provide uniform service across the transit network, with the proviso that such coverage will take six years to be completely implemented. And yes, you will be able to access the internet even if you are not a Shaw customer. Trials will start next year, and the complete internet coverage of the public transportation system is said to the first in Canada.

And to make matters even more comfortable and convenient, the TransLink Board of Directors has approved the development of a strategy to provide washrooms on the system “over the longer term”. As reported in the Daily Hive  “The preferred method is to provide washroom facilities in partnership with third-party parties to maximize customer experience and maximize safety and security while also minimizing costs and risks.”

It’s no surprise that  TransLink found  that 72% of those surveyed said washrooms would make the transit experience better, with 20% actually admitting that they limited their trips around the need to use washroom facilities. And fully 25 percent said they’d use transit service more and longer if washroom access was provided.

An implementation strategy for washrooms will provide the missing link of washroom comfort and convenience. Coupled with universal internet coverage, TransLink is now becoming a system that is truly  accessible and attractive for all users. It’s a pretty perfect Christmas wish fulfilment.

We just can’t wait.

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Where are the Public Washrooms in the City?

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Walk Metro Vacouver has been pondering why this city does not have public washrooms associated with public transit, biking and walking routes.  There is a need for washrooms that are universally accessible, and some writers have described this need as a basic human right.

Even the Downtown Vancouver Business Association published a map of public toilets saying  “There’s no doubt that access to clean and safe washrooms is necessary, and especially so in an area frequented by tourists and locals.  While the City of Vancouver requires all city buildings to have accessible washrooms, there is no similar rule for public toilets on streets and in or near new plazas. Visiting a bathroom in a coffee shop or other business isn’t an option for many people on limited incomes, when many businesses restrict their washrooms to customers who have made a purchase.”

An article by Ken MacQueen in the Vancouver Sun 18 years ago noted that in 1896 Vancouver began installing public toilets, but at the start most of these facilities were for men~they were urinals. By the  1920’s women also had the use of underground toilets that were installed at busy intersections including the south side of the Granville Bridge, Kingsway and Broadway, and the only underground facilities still remaining, outside Carnegie Community centre at Hastings and Main.

These used to be pristine, run rather like clockwork by a couple who took pride in making sure the facilities were clean and safe and useable. But something is amiss at the last underground public washrooms~School Board Trustee and former Park Commissioner Christopher Richardson posted publicly on Facebook that “The Downtown Eastside~to some home,  to some ‘their neighbourhood’, to some ‘the Heart of the City’  has had a change in the maintenance of the underground washrooms. Where before Christopher would refer tourists and family there, he has lately found the washrooms unkempt, and in one visit saw that  several of the toilets were out of service.

But what has happened? Judy Graves a well-respected former City of Vancouver staff person observed that these washrooms used to be pristine and were very well-managed by City of Vancouver Engineering Department. The City does have policy encouraging the use of public toilets in the downtown eastside, and was addressing the need for safe, clean washrooms at night.

Other locals have worked vociferously to advocate for public washrooms accessible to all residents. What can be done to ensure that everyone has access to these existing washroom facilities? And what can be done to ensure that existing facilities are well maintained and safe for all members of the public?

Here is a Youtube Video published by the Vancouver Sun on some of the issues with  public washrooms in Vancouver and other cities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmflQkFDR40&feature=youtu.be

Walk or Bike to Work, Save Billions of Dollars

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The British  non-profit Sustrans has been examining governmental plans to increase walking and cycling and have figured out that if the plans are implemented within ten years, that 13,000 lives will be saved and nearly 9.31 billion pounds or 16 billion Canadian dollars still in coffers.

The CEO of Sustrans stated “The new findings reiterate that walking and cycling have a huge role to play in tackling the air quality crisis that causes tens of thousands of premature deaths every year. If we are to make a major modal shift, we need to provide a network of direct protected cycle routes on roads in addition to quieter routes across the UK.”

That’s an interesting thing to talk about protected bicycle routes, as air pollution in Great Britain causes 40,000 early deaths a year. The toxicity is mainly from diesel vehicles in the form of nitrogen dioxide. Many British towns and cities do not meet the WHO guidelines for mitigating air pollution, the most dangerous, PM2.5 coming from vehicle tires and brakes. “A report last month revealed that every area in London exceeds World Health Organisation limits for PM2.5.”

“Sustrans, in partnership with the environmental consultancy Eunomia, found that if targets to double journeys by bike and increase walking by “300 stages per person” in the England’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy were met, this would prevent more than 8,300 premature deaths from air pollution. This would result in £5.67bn in benefits over 10 years through the avoided costs associated with poor air quality, including NHS treatment in hospital for respiratory diseases.”  

Modal change from vehicles “to bikes, not diesel for electric” is the best way forward with even bigger savings if the wider impacts to health and well-being of physical activity were encouraged. This is the first time that Sustran’s data has been used with public health data to ascertain the impact of walking and cycling on a person’s exposure to air pollution.  “Our analysis suggests investment in cycling and walking has considerable potential to improve local air pollution. We believe this innovative model could be of considerable value in supporting local authorities and government as these bodies consider options to tackle the air pollution emergency at a local level.”
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Moving Pedestrians with that “Hissing” Noise

 

If you have been walking on Vancouver’s Seymour Street between Robson and Smithe you have probably heard it~kind of a high-pitched hissing noise, with a bit of a pulse to it. And no, it is not a heat pump or something related to a building’s air conditioning. That sound is actually a deterrent to keep loiterers and folks that would otherwise chat, sit near, or take up space near the parkade running the noise.

Called the Mosquito, this technology was invented  in Great Britain and has a patented small speaker that produces a high frequency sound that can be heard by people who are 13 to 25 years old. That sound is broadcast at 17 Kilohertz (KHz). For older people, and in this case the Seymour Street sound, the setting is at 8 KHz and can be heard by people of all ages. There’s even a way to put place the Mosquito in a “royalty free” music channel, to ward away teenagers but attract older people. “Classical or Chill-out music that would keep the teenagers away to some extent…Launched in the year 2008, it is popular among clients who prefer to use music as one of the strategies to deal with anti social behavior!”

So back to Seymour Street~as reported by CBC News, a guy walking his dog noticed his pup was upset walking along this block. He found that the noise emanated from a box mounted in a stairwell in a nearby parkade, and was designed to deter people from gathering there. Calling these “audio pigeon spikes” a complaint was made to the City of Vancouver. And apparently others have noticed this noise as well, making walking down the street unpleasant for passersby.

Rob De Luca, public safety director for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the devices can be disruptive when used near public spaces, like a busy sidewalk.

“Broadly, these things can raise some concerns,” said De Luca. “The experience can be painful for certain people. It can very much be a blunt instrument. It doesn’t discriminate on people who are offending or not offending — it hits all ears alike.”

It appears that the Mosquito devices are legal in Canada and the complaint has been forwarded to the Vancouver Police Department.  It is worth checking out the comments section of the CBC article where commenters have listed other locations where these Mosquito devices are installed. And if you want to hear how annoying the Mosquito noise is, you can hear this sound by following this link.

 

 


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That City Walk Can Kill You in the Pedestrian Death Capital of Canada

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The statistics have just been released that there were 11 murders in the City of Vancouver in 2016.  The 11 murders did not include the 11 pedestrians who died by being crashed into by vehicles on city streets. And some sobering statistics for  Metro Vancouver-“the coroners’ research found that 40 per cent of pedestrians killed in Greater Vancouver were struck at intersections and in crosswalks. Of those killed in crosswalks, two-thirds were crossing while the light was green”.

Concerned citizens nationally note that somehow we view the death of walkers  by cars as an inevitable side effect of motordom, an unavoidable collateral to the convenience of the car. Indeed one of the rationales for driverless vehicle technology is that less pedestrians will be maimed and die.

Torontonians call this carnage “road violence”, a term first used when the car started to take over public streets in the early part of the 20th century. Earlier in that century cars in Paris were even regulated to only go the speed of a walker, to ensure that pedestrians had a chance. Vancouver pedestrians are dying by vehicle crashes at twice the rate per capita of Toronto, where one person is injured every four hours, and over 44 pedestrians were killed in 2016. But in Vancouver there is not the outrage, not the insistence that we look clearly at the four items that can ameliorate this awful paradigm-visibility, driver behaviour, speed and road design. We don’t have a  city councillor or mayor  that is taking this task on, and many people deride the obvious statement that reflectivity is very important for pedestrians in our low light winters. Wearing reflective items markedly decreased pedestrian deaths in Scandinavia.

We need political will to change driver behaviour, speed,and road design in Vancouver. Visibility? Pedestrians can assist with this piece. Noted journalist Daphne Bramham has written in the Vancouver Sun that  “At least half a dozen times since the rains have come, I’ve been startled by pedestrians — dressed all in black — darting across the street in the middle of the block or against a red light…Sure, it’s fashionable and comfortable to wear black. But it’s also bloody risky, especially on dark, rainy Vancouver nights.

“There is data showing that Vancouver (closely followed by Surrey) is the pedestrian death capital of Canada. During this past, bleak, rainy October, twice as many B.C. pedestrians died as were killed in the six previous years. Ten pedestrians died in five Lower Mainland communities, which brought the provincial death toll for 2016 to 47. Usually, January is usually the worst month. Data for 2010 to 2015 collected by the B.C. Coroners Service shows that, on average, 7.4 pedestrians die every January. In November, the average is 7.2, and in December, 6.3.”  And in Tsawwassen, one of those lower mainland communities, two seniors were mowed down and killed on 56th Street in two separate incidents. They were  in a marked crosswalked intersection killed  by cars making left turns.And in the Lower Mainland a disproportionate number of those killed by vehicle crashes are seniors.

Daphne also noted that “A good and caring friend gave me some reflective bands to wear. Yet even though I knew I was safer, I felt foolish wearing them”. That is the work that the Walk and Be Seen Project at Kitsilano Neighbourhood House is undertaking with seniors to change how pedestrians feel about using reflective items in our rainy winters.

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) makes a universal reflective sash that can be used by anyone, and there are textiles, sprays and even reflective wool that can be knitted. We need to insist that winter clothes have reflectivity and are not all black as is the current style. Until we can change the paradigm with the car, being visible at night  is one thing that pedestrians can do, as well as contacting their Metro Vancouver Mayors and City Councillors and demanding that pedestrian safety be made a priority. It is a matter of life or death.

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