An Open Space Mindset
May 23, 2017
The Bay Area is full of land set aside for nature use, and open space is a central part of the Bay Area’s identity. In order to see how these parks and open spaces affected the average Bay Area citizen, I conducted short interviews with park goers. I then asked the interviewee to draw or doodle anything that was on their mind for two minutes on a blank sheet of paper in an attempt to visualize how nature was affecting their mindset and why nature is so important to the Bay Area. After interviewing these park goers of different backgrounds, I looked for themes between their drawings and relationships to nature.
The Effect of Open Space on a Designer
I met Josephine Couront in a local park. She was walking her dog and hashing out some problems with a friend. She explained to me that she does her best to come out to a park three of four times a week for the fresh air. When I asked to interview her and explained the drawing process her friend laughed and said: “this could actually be good for you”.
I asked Couront how the process went for her to which she responded: “It was definitely hard because, for me, I normally have to think about something, a concept, because I am a designer, so I usually have to think about a concept before executing. So it was actually very interesting having to not think about it. And now looking at it, it is so symmetrical which is not what I am normally. It was interesting though, it was definitely hard, but then you just go for it.”
Couront’s surroundings changed her mood and her creativity and she has previously realized that nature has a strong effect on her creativity. She says, “if I was in my office in front of my computer I think I would definitely have more of a creative block than being out here because I definitely come out here to get inspiration”.
Skating in Nature
Simon and Elliot are 8th and 7th Graders that enjoy skating every day in a local skatepark in Mill Valley. The skate park sits right on the side of a beautiful open marsh and park complex complete with grass fields and a gravel bike path. They come here every day to skate and enjoy a break from school.
The effects of one’s surroundings were clearly obvious in Simon’s drawing: he drew himself in the skatepark. Elliot’s drawing also incorporated his surroundings with a tree and a rainbow representing the joys of nature. I asked them how hard it was to draw on command to which they shrugged and said it was easy. I then asked them whether or not their drawings would be the same in class. Simon said that “If I tried drawing in class I would not be able to draw. There are too many distractions in class. I can’t draw like I can out here”.
The health benefits of parks are plentiful and well known. In the age of iPhones, social media, and hyperactive middle schoolers, it is more than important to take time in nature like Simon and Elliot do. Healthy Parks Healthy People Bay Area, an organization for park and open space awareness and events, touts the research behind the mental effects of nature. They say that “psychologically, time spent exercising in nature has been reported to not only reduce stress, and improve attention, but also to positively impact mental restoration and coping with attention deficits (ADD and ADHD)”.
The Transition from Work
I noticed a young woman sitting in the dog park on her phone. I approached her and after some small talk and learning that her name was Lauren, she agreed to help me with my project. Her name was Lauren and she lives in Marin County with her dog and boyfriend. She discussed how she tries to take full advantage of the parks open to her in Marin County: “We go on a lot of walks. My favorite parts are the landscape, the trees, the hills, the sun, and the fresh air. We like hiking up on mount tam. We like to go to China Camp, and Piper Park is good. We hit up as many parks in Marin County as we can. There is a lot of great stuff to do in the outdoors”.
Lauren incorporated a sun onto her page as well as a smiley face and she exclaimed that it was “such a pretty day!”, but at the same time, her stream of consciousness had lingering effects of the busy work day. She wrote about stresses on her mind and it turned into a bit of a to-do list. She said that “every time I start writing things down I end up making a to-do list because that is always on my mind”. It seemed that despite being in nature with her adorable dog, Lauren was still connected to her phone and mentally connected to the rigor of daily life.
In this age where work, school, and responsibilities can control one’s mind, one of the best remedies is nature. By having Lauren draw for me, I was able to see her mind transition from the work day that she recently finished to a more appreciative and relaxed open space mindset.
A Ranger’s View
Many political opponents to protecting wildlife and open space believe that the regulations and taxes that protect the environment are wasted and stunt the economy. Contrariwise, in many cases turning the land into protected parks actually boosts the economy in rural areas. Ranger Cecilia Rejas has been a ranger for 15 years and has seen firsthand where the taxes and regulations go to work.
Rejas has devoted much of her life to being a ranger. She explains that “it started with a love for the outdoors, hiking, and talking to people.” According to Rejas being a ranger is not all fun and outdoor exploration: “my least favorite part is the administrative paperwork we have to do. Regardless of the joy of working outdoors, there is always some desk time.” Despite the small setback of having non-outdoor work to do, Rejas believes that being a ranger is the perfect “balancing act between protecting the resources of the state of California, and allowing people to have space for recreation.
Rejas describes the wonderful effects that nature can have on a busy modern American: “[In nature] people can go and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You get out here and you can see the magnificent views and breathe the fresh air. I think it rejuvenates mind body and soul.”
Nature’s seemingly magical ability to improve moods, reduce distraction, and calm stressed humans are what make it so important to keep ours safe. According to one study, patients with trees and grass in their room recovered faster and needed less medication that those without.
“I think it’s very important that we have a healthy society with parks, open spaces, and green space for people to get away from work. Now more than ever we are surrounded by technology and it is a lot harder to get by and survive in this world. Having open spaces and parks is very critical and important.”
Rejas’ insight seemed to concur directly with what I witnessed by interviewing strangers. Nature is a crucial part of the Bay Area so as citizens of the Bay Area we must first protect this land from further development, and then appreciate this land by respectfully using it to escape from urban life.