by Cari Varner, Program Manager of the Finger Lakes Institute’s Community Design Center and Sustainable Community Development Program
This Fall, the FLI-CDC is taking on a new project, in partnership with Ontario ARC. Ontario ARC is a private, not-for-profit that serves more than 900 children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families throughout Ontario County. Their Eberhardt facility, located in Canandaigua, serves 60–70 adults with 15 staff, and features a large outdoor Recreation Area. Currently, the space features pathways, landscaping, a pavilion area, two swings and a few benches. The FLI-CDC is working to re-design the Recreation Area to better provide opportunities for passive and active recreation and incorporate green infrastructure and environmental education opportunities in a way that provides an interesting and functional space for all people, regardless of ability.
There is an opportunity to expand both the acreage of the Recreation Area, as well as the amenities available by creating a garden space that is designed to be accessible and enjoyable to all users, and enhance and engage all of the five senses. Dubbed a sensory garden, plantings, hardscaping, and activities are selected to stimulate the sense of sight, touch, smell, hearing and even taste. For example, plants like lavender are especially fragrant, while water features provide a relaxing sound and opportunities for touch. Informative displays are provided in Braille, and textured pathways create different sensations for those in wheelchairs and those walking alike.
Contact with nature, through wilderness, parks and gardens or even just street trees or potted plants has been reported to have many psychological benefits including a reduction in stress, improved attention and increased overall well-being. Likewise, there appears to be direct physical health benefits from contact with nature (Grinde and Patil 2009). In addition to the mental and physical health benefits of spending time in nature, the space will be designed to enable participants to use the sensory garden to learn about horticulture and local wildlife, expanding upon the existing program based out of the Ontario ARC greenhouse located adjacent to the Recreation Area. Additionally, the proposed design will include infrastructure to promote physical exercise and the practice of gross motor skills, as well as socializing and quiet contemplation. It is also planned to incorporate other educational elements into the space that can aid in practicing communication skills. The intention is to create a space that is usable and aesthetically pleasing in all seasons and different times of day.
Plans for the Recreation Area are a tall order, but the FLI-CDC team is committed to providing Ontario ARC with space which enhances the experience of all who use it. To assist in this effort, the team is consulting with the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access at the University at Buffalo. The IDeA Center is dedicated to making environments and products more usable, safer and healthier in response to the needs of an increasingly diverse population. The IDeA Center’s activities are based on the philosophy of Inclusive Design, often called universal design. Universal design is the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life. To assist with the landscaping selected for the Recreation Area, the team will seek the assistance of Assistant Professor of Architectural Studies Jeffrey Blankenship of Hobart & William Smith Colleges. Kristen Brubaker, HWS Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies is also providing guidance in surveying and GIS.
The first step in the project is to create an existing site plan of the Recreation Area, as many key trees, pathways and elements such as benches will be retained. Next, the team will meet with Ontario ARC staff to detail what specific programmatic elements should be included in the re-design which would be most useful and utilized by participants. Finally, a phased plan for the space will be created, which will include specific plantings, green infrastructure and design features. Ontario ARC plans to implement these additions and changes over the next year.
Grinde, Bjorn and Grete Grindal Patil. (2009). Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being?. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 6, 2332-2343.