Can Humans Cope With This Kind Of Loss?

Social (Macro) Factors

How are therapeutic landscapes around the world faring at the hands of exploding urban development? Can water still be considered a “place of healing” after all bureaucratic interference?

“Water is the lifeline of human civilization” and urban development introduces “biological, chemical and physical hazards” into the environment. In shore-cities these hazards, if not disposed of properly, all end up running off into the water. The same water that supplies the drinking water.

The ecological impacts on the environment have already been talked about in a previous section. It’s time to look into what happens when there is a global problem of therapeutic landscapes not being able to offer any therapeutic benefits.

While there hasn’t been as much research into the impacts of “blue space” on health, Dr. Roger Ulrich from The Centre for Health Design and Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, professors of psychology at the University of Michigan, are among the pioneers who looked into how being close to water can reap therapeutic benefits.

A study titled Does living by the coast improve health and wellbeing? was done on this effect, and it concluded that living along a coast not only has socio-economic benefits, but “marine and coastal ecosystems contribute to human health and wellbeing.”

The report found that:

  • 23 of the worlds 30 largest cities are on the coast
  • over 33% of the world’s population has ‘[choosen] to live along a ‘‘narrow fringe of coastal land’’’
  • “living near the coast may mitigate some of the negative health effects of socio-economic deprivation.”

These benefits all depend on having access to a “good” environment, and data from England presented in the report suggests that

“…everyday visits to the coast were associated with higher levels of stress-reducing, positive emotions (e.g. calmness, relaxation, revitalization) than visits to urban parks or open countryside. As over two-thirds of all coastal visits were found to be made by people who live within 5 miles of the coast, coastal communities may attain better physical health due to the stress-reducing value of greater leisure time spent near the sea.”

It is now understood that coastal health benefits are reaped, but when a coast is constantly under construction and the attached water body soiled by run-off chemicals a coast cannot be seen as beneficial to health.

There is a lot of good data available about the positive effects of “blue spaces” on human health, but that data fails to look at the flip side of when development begins to infringe on these spaces of health promotion.

When urban development rapidly increases it is often detrimental to the health of a cities population. Not only do citizens suffer from lack of water-based therapeutic landscapes, but water often becomes an enemy or something to be wary of.

Poorly maintained waste management and sanitation systems are to blame for the sickness of a population. This contributes to “deaths from respiratory infections and diarrhea, sewage and contaminants from industries are the main water pollutants in urban areas.”

A body of water is no longer seen as a place for healing, but rather a breeding ground for bacteria.

Gesler writes in his paper that, “a person’s experience of a therapeutic landscape emerges through a complex set of transactions between a person and their broader socio-environmental setting.” He’s speaking about the way people interact with therapeutic landscapes. Just because a body of water is blue (on the surface, who knows what chemicals lurk beneath) does not mean that it is therapeutic by nature. A person’s personal experience of a landscape and how they interact with it makes the landscape therapeutic.

Urban development around the world is not the way to allow these personal interactions to take place. How can someone feel personally connected to Lake Ontario when they’ve got condos clouding their field of vision?

Feeling a breeze and being able to see and connect to a water-body is key to reaping the therapeutic benefits. What construction and over development does is take those simple pleasures away.

Looking to examples globally…

Manhattan shoreline:

Chicago shoreline:

San Diego shoreline:

Norfolk shoreline:

Detroit shoreline:

Dubai shoreline:

London shoreline:

Ontario through Sarnia shoreline:

St. Petersburg shoreline: