by Eric Grundhauser, Atlas Obscura: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/society-against-quackery-netherlands-vereniging-tegen-kwakzalverij
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Thursday, May 18, 2017
We are told that we are a nation of couch potatoes, lacking the will and the strength to turn around the obesity tanker. We all need a little help in our quest for a healthier life and design can play a crucial part. If we designed our towns, cities, homes and workplaces more like animal experts design zoos, we could be one step nearer to reaching our fitness goals – as long as we can have some fun along the way.
It is reported that British people will be the fattest in Europe by 2025 and that if we want to reverse this we should have a healthier lifestyle by exercising more and eating less. But we are often made to feel guilty for not sticking to theses healthy lifestyle plans. I would suggest that before we start blaming people for adopting sedentary lifestyles, we should be taking a step back to look at the design of the environments, towns and cities in which we live.
The link between the design of the built and natural environment and its role in our health and well-being has been well explored. Now new research, led by Lancaster University, on “design for health” suggests that the environment, including buildings, cities, urban spaces and transport infrastructure, is closely linked to the lifestyles we adopt.
What is abundantly clear is that, as we shape our environment, it is also shaping us. Our psychological, physiological and physical status as well as our interactions with other people and with the natural environment are all affected. A key challenge that governments and policy makers worldwide are facing is how our built environment and infrastructure should be shaped to support healthier behaviours to prevent disease.
First, we should stop focusing on methods that tell people what to (or not to) do and which attempt to change their behaviour simply through media campaigns and punitive measures, such as tax schemes. While seeking to minimise the barriers that prevent healthy behaviours, we should make sure that the design of new environments is taken into account.
Looking to zoosA good model would be to look at how zoos are designed. Before a zoo is built, it is common practice for zoologists, biologists, animal psychologists, nutritionists, architects, designers and landscape architects to work closely together to create an environment that optimises the living conditions for the animals.
Important environmental elements, such as vegetation, habitat, lighting, materials and each animal’s requirements are taken into account. The ultimate aim is to design an environment that fully supports the animals’ physical, psychological and social well-being. Ironically, we do not seem to make the same demands when a town, neighbourhood or workplace environment for humans is planned and designed.
Another opportunity that has recently emerged is the healthy new town NHS initiative. The aim is to radically rethink how we live and take an ambitious look at improving health through the built environment. Ten demonstrator towns will be built across England with community health and well-being as their main focus. Clinicians, designers and technology experts will reimagine how healthcare can be delivered in these places. Although this is a step in the right direction, what it is currently missing is the more holistic approach we have seen in the design of the zoos.
A crucial element in designing these towns so they are places that people would want to live in, is to include community members in their creation. This strategy would help design-in health-promoting behaviours, such as access to healthy food outlets or green spaces in which people can walk and exercise.
Embracing playfulnessPlayful design – the mapping of playful experiences from games and toys to other non-game contexts – can play an important role here in inviting and encouraging people towards healthier alternatives. For example, the piano stairs project in Stockholm, which converts the metro stairs into a giant functioning piano keyboard – much like the piano made famous in the Tom Hanks movie Big (1988) – demonstrates great promise. It encourages commuters to opt for the intriguing new stairway instead of the escalators to enjoy making musical movements as they go up and down.
A project in The Netherlands, meanwhile, illustrates how everyday street furniture, such as lampposts, benches and bollards, can be inexpensively converted into impromptu exercise devices, inviting people to engage in casual activity and socialise with their neighbours. We could therefore envisage several other contexts were playfulness can transform mundane everyday activities into fun ones that encourage people into a more active and social lifestyle.
We could convert building walls into activity walls to encourage stretching of arms and legs through touch; redesign public squares and walkways into interactive dance floors that invite movement and guide you through a city; and transform workplace spaces and public places into “playgrounds” that boost movement and productivity and decrease lethargy.
So there you have it. If we want to be a nation of lean, mean and healthy citizens we need to learn from zoos and the animals that live in them. And we need to embrace playfulness and enjoy the place where we live. That way, we can tackle life with a hop, skip and a jump.
Emmanuel Tsekleves, Senior Lecturer in Design Interactions, Lancaster University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
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In late-April 2017 the French Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron stunned supporters of Marine Le Pen, his opponent, by directly engaging with them on a picket line. Macron handed the microphone to union members whilst arguing that closing borders would do nothing positive for the economy, and might well harm it.
This was a rare act of engagement in western politics, where debates are characterised by the frothing of deeply divided sides. If Macron’s argument had been transmitted indirectly via the media it would probably have fallen on deaf ears, dismissed as more ‘fake news’ or standard ‘liberal bias.’ But he managed to create a relationship with people directly who he knew might disagree with him, and this direct engagement made all the difference. Physical presence has a power that goes beyond any argument. By showing that he was ready to listen, Macron also helped to diffuse his opposition. The crowd quietened and a dialogue began.
The gatekeeper of our intellect - the emotional limbic system - relies on relationship. No matter how potent the arguments, that system won’t allow more information to be processed rationally by the ‘higher’ faculties of the brain if there is no emotional connection. That means that respectful relationships are a prior condition for persuasion—a point that is lost in much current political campaigning, still more in the nightly ridicule of President Trump and his supporters by comedians on late night television shows in the USA.
The polarised cultures of Western democracy alienate one other not just through what they say, but also by how they live. These divisions are having a crucial effect on how we address issues of migration, welfare and trade. The problem is that both sides are so busy trying to fix the other that no genuine communication is taking place.
The blogger Andrés Miguel Rondón offers Venezuela’s experience as a prescription for healing this situation. It took liberals there years to realise that they themselves had become de-humanised, while in the mindset of those who saw ex-President Hugo Chavez as a champion, all talk of justice and freedom of the press fell on deaf ears because it seemed to come from an alien group.
When two sides of an argument are so entrenched, a simple exchange of facts no longer produces any forward movement. The clash is not one of opinions but of radically-different worldviews. A worldview is an emotional commitment to certain attitudes and beliefs. Most of us spend our entire lives accumulating evidence to justify a worldview. Our lives and actions then seek to express it. “We tend not to see our worldview as a perspective” says researcher Annick de Witt, “We see it as truth.”
The fundamentals of our own worldviews are no less shaky than those of the opposition, but our respective commitments run very deep. Long-time Greenpeace activist and storyteller Brian Fitzgerald puts it another way: “What is being expressed might seem crazy, but the feeling it expresses is a true experience for that person.” We may deny or reject what we see as a nonsensical argument, but in doing so we are denying what someone else experiences as truth. It’s this dynamic that feeds mutual alienation.
So what does it take to reach across our different worldviews?
First, “it takes a lot of humility” says de Witt, “We need to be willing to explore the limitations of our own worldview.” But this is a step, she admits, that few of us seem willing to take. The theatre director Peter Brook puts it like this: “hold on tightly, let go lightly.” “For a point of view to be of any use at all,” he says, “one must commit oneself totally to it, one must defend it to the very death. Yet at the same time, there is an inner voice that murmurs: ‘Don’t take it too seriously.’” It would be wonderful if more of us were willing to commit to our values, but even more powerful if we had the grace to let go. Only then could we find more common ground.
Secondly, the stories that shape our worldviews are very powerful. In the information age it’s tempting to think of the whole world as a story. If the world is a story then the perfect world is only a story away. We need only spin a message, an advert or campaign to bring about successful change.
We all know of indigenous tribes whose worlds are shaped by the stories that they’ve heard, so we believe our own storytelling will shape society too. The trouble is that the kind of stories that are told in such societies are part of a network of mythology—not media to be consumed but realities that are lived. Such stories aren’t just heard; they are enacted through ritual. Listeners become participants in ways that shape and sharpen their psyche. They don’t simply receive information; they learn new ways of seeing and being in the world. Their intuition is moulded so that they know how to act.
It will take the work of centuries to restore our present-day cultures to anything like that level of dignity and imagination. However, we can draw one vital lesson: what we are looking for is not a story but a ritual. By creating experiences that embody the world we want to live in, we allow others to participate and create their own meaning.
“It took our leaders ten years to figure out they needed to actually go to the slums and to the countryside” says Rondón, “And not for a speech, or a rally, but for game of dominoes or to dance salsa – to show they were Venezuelans too, that they had tumbao and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed.”
To see how these different elements combine—relationship, humility and ritual—here’s a recent example that comes from Italy. In 2016, a group called GoDeep! hit the streets of Grottaglie in Puglia to explore—and potentially transform—local attitudes towards migration from North Africa.
At the heart of the process was what they call the ‘appreciative gaze,’ an attitude similar to the unconditional positive regard that was practiced by the psychotherapist Carl Rogers. Rather than arriving with pre-set judgements on what needed to be changed, the group spoke to local people on their own terms. Sometimes this meant receiving openly racist abuse, but gradually ties with the community were forged.
At the end of the enquiry, a celebration of diversity was held in which both local culture and the cultures of the new arrivals were included. Those seen as ‘the other’—in this case migrants and liberal activists from GoDeep!—steadily became more of an ‘us.’ By starting with direct contact and open conversation with local people, the group established a relationship. This relationship then served to create an experience that told a deeper story of unity than words alone could tell. This story of unity was then ritualised in celebration.
First-hand experiences of this kind create more information, conversation and connections than conventional media campaigns, and they help to reduce the likelihood of judgmental behaviour and artificial separation. “In a few days we created the possibility for people from diverse backgrounds to take ownership of their local space” says Niels Koldewijn, a GoDeep! participant and the director of Elos Foundation. “It generated recognition for migrants from the locals, and importantly, migrants for locals as well.”
This approach might not be enough to persuade political hardliners, but it can help to create the right conditions for those who are ready to make a jump across the lines of difference. As one of Hannah Arendt’s favourite poems from Walter Benjamin puts it:
“…the soft water’s movement will
defy the strongest stone in time.
The hard ones, you see, are more easily undermined.”
We could imagine a wave of ritual actions similar to GoDeep! taking place worldwide, each one a potent demonstration of the open, tolerant world we want to create. Enacting unity through public works, participatory theatre and even cups of tea would mean that we’re not just telling a story but creating it together—and doing so in ways where everyone’s invited.