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Lai, Webster, Kumari, and Sarkar (in press) make space-use suggestions related to social density management and appropriate social distancing: “School buildings are generally very inefficiently used, being unused at weekends and evenings. This gives scope for lower-density classes by spreading across time. . . . Future housing must also focus on the creation of a multi-functional design with inherent abilities to couple living with working to enable work-from-home routines that can not only facilitate performance efficiency but also individual’s wellbeing. . .  As populations are restricted indoors, into limited per-capita space, the role of neighbourhood built environment becomes ever more important; its restorative potential in maintaining emotional resilience and mental wellbeing as well as enabling adequate levels of physical activity. . . . Cities have taken shape over tens and hundreds of years around a simple diurnal pattern based around working in the day and sleeping at night. As a result, much urban space is underused and can be de-crowded by smoothing usage over daily and weekly cycles.”

Ka Lai, Chris Webster, Sarika Kumari, and Chinmoy Sarkar.  “The Nature of Cities and the Covid-19 Pandemic.”  Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2020.08.008

Ogletree, Huang, Alberico, Marquet, Floyd, and Hipp identified the amenities parents are most interested in finding in the parks they visit with their children.  A study published in the Journal of Healthy Eating and Active Living, based on data collected in North Carolina and New York City from low-income parents of 5- to 10-year oldswho visited parks, indicates that “While parents from diverse backgrounds most often value parks that offer amenities like playgrounds, sports fields and green spaces, they also want parks to feel safe. . . . Across all parents in the [North Carolina] Triangle, [the researchers] saw that safety and safe facilities were most often cited, followed closely by physical features like playground equipment, sports fields and green areas.  . . . Parents who identified as Latinx in New York City highly valued the safety and security of the park, along with proximity and limited entrances. Latinx parents were also more likely to indicate the social environment of a park was important to them.”

“Study Identifies Amenities Parents Want in Public Parks.”  2020. Press release, North Carolina State University, https://news.ncsu.edu/2020/12/study-identifies-amenities-parents-want-in...

Neuroscientists affiliated with Technische Universitat Dresden found that we “hear” what we expect to hear.  A press release from TU Dresden reports that “neuroscience research has revealed that the cerebral cortex constantly generates predictions on what will happen next, and that neurons in charge of sensory processing only encode the difference between our predictions and the actual reality.. . . new findings . . . show that not only the cerebral cortex, but the entire auditory pathway, represents sounds according to prior expectations.. . .  Dr. Alejandro Tabas, first author of the publication, states on the findings: ‘Our subjective beliefs on the physical world have a decisive role on how we perceive reality. . . . All that we perceive might be deeply contaminated by our subjective beliefs on the physical world.’"

“We Hear What We Expect to Hear.”  2021.  Press release, Technische Universitat Dresden, https://tu-dresden.de/tu-dresden/newsportal/news/menschen-hoeren-das-was...

Recently published research confirms the value of designing green spaces into our everyday environments. A paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies reports that “Previous academic studies have indicated how being outdoors, particularly in green spaces, can improve mental health by promoting more positive body image, and lowering levels of depression and anxiety. . . . Using an experience sampling method (ESM), the researchers measured levels of happiness amongst a group of 286 adults three times a day, at random intervals, over a 21-day period. . . . levels of happiness were higher when participants were outdoors rather than indoors. In addition, more daily screen time and higher levels of loneliness were both associated with lower levels of happiness. The impact of loneliness on happiness was also weaker when participants were outdoors.” Data were collected in April 2020 in Austria.

“Heading Outdoors Keeps Lockdown Blues at Bay.”  2021. Press release, Anglia Ruskin University, https://aru.ac.uk/news/heading-outdoors-keeps-lockdown-blues-at-bay

The number of people visiting parks has increased during the pandemic, with design-related implications. Fisher, Grima, Sommer, Corcoran, Hill-James, and Langton conducted a study, published in PLoS One, which determined that “26% of people visiting parks during early months of the COVID-19 pandemic had rarely – or never – visited nature in the previous year. . . . According to the findings, nearly 70% of park users increased their visits to local nature. . . . . While 27% of people reduced their group size when visiting nature, another 11% of visitors increased their group size. This aligns with the 17% of respondents who reported that natural areas allowed them safe spaces to socialize during COVID-19. Park users’ most common reasons for visiting natural areas and parks were: getting outside, exercise, connecting to nature, finding peace and quiet, birding, dog walking, and time with children. Researchers found that 66% of people used these natural areas to find peace and quiet, and 32% reported these places as spaces for contemplation, activities that have been shown to reduce stress.”

“New Nature Lover?  It’s a COVID-19 Side Effect.”  2020.  Press release, The University of Vermont, https://www.uvm.edu/rsenr/news/new-nature-lover-its-covid-19-side-effect

Triugakos, Chawla, and McCarthy evaluated stress levels among employees during the pandemic and the effects of hand washing on those stress levels.  They determined that “there is little understanding of how COVID-19 health anxiety(CovH anxiety)—that is, feelings of fear and apprehension about having or contracting COVID-19—impacts critical work, home, and health outcomes. . . . Consistent with predictions, CovH anxiety was found to impair critical work (goal progress), home (family engagement) and health (somaticcomplaints) outcomes due to increased emotion suppression and lack of psychological need fulfillment. Further, individuals who frequently engage in handwashing behavior were buffered from the negative impact of CovH anxiety.”  This work highlights an important reason to support hand washing via design.

John Triugakos, Nitya Chawla, and Julie McCarthy. 2020.  “Working in a Pandemic:  Exploring the Impact of COVID-19 Health Anxiety on Work, Family, and Health Outcomes.”  Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 105, no. 11, pp. 1234-1245, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000739

Saunders and colleagues report that wearing facemasks impedes communication; design may, via whiteboards, new signage, etc., partially compensate for this impairment.  As the Sanders team reports, “An online survey consisting of closed-set and open-ended questions [was] distributed within the UK to gain insights into experiences of interactions involving face coverings, and of the impact of face coverings on communication. . . . With few exceptions, participants reported that face coverings negatively impacted hearing, understanding, engagement, and feelings of connection with the speaker. Impacts were greatest when communicating in medical situations. People with hearing loss were significantly more impacted than those without hearing loss. Face coverings impacted communication content, interpersonal connectedness, and willingness to engage in conversation; they increased anxiety and stress, and made communication fatiguing, frustrating and embarrassing – both as a speaker wearing a face covering, and when listening to someone else who is wearing one.”

G. Saunders, I. Jackson, and A. Visram. “Impacts of Face Coverings on Communication:  An Indirect Impact of Covid-19.”  International Journal of Audiology, in press, https://doi.org/10.1080/14992027.2020.1851401

Research done by Welsch and teammates, indicates that people are stressed by the interpersonal distances required to combat the spread of the pandemic; calming design options (for example), can partially combat this tension.  As the Welsch team reports: “Mandatory rules for social distancing to curb the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic require individuals to maintain a critical interpersonal distance above 1.5 m. However, this contradicts our natural preference, which is closer to 1 m for non-intimate encounters, for example, when asking a stranger for directions. . . . research on preferred interpersonal distances suggests that social distancing could induce discomfort, heighten arousal.  . . . . We suggest that enforcing a physical distance of 1.5–2 m presents a serious challenge to behavioral norms.

Robin Welsch, Heiko Hecht, Lewis Chuang, and Christoph von Castell.  2020. “Interpersonal Distance in the SARS-CoV-2 Crisis.”  Human Factors, vol. 62, no. 7, pp. 1095-1101, https://doi.org/10.1177/0018720820956858

Hofer, Chen, and Schaller make it clear that humans “communicate” extensively via scents.  Peoples’ need to pick up the odors of others supports subtle  scentscaping. The Hofer-lead team shares that “People readily perceive and react to the body odors of other people, which creates a wide range of implications for affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses. . . . . Like physical appearance, body odor reflects personal characteristics and temporary circumstances (e.g., people smell differently depending on their sex, age, health, and even transient emotional states; de Groot, Semin, and Smeets, 2017). . . . Humans have a sophisticated olfactory system that discriminates between a wide range of scents—including the odors of other people. The perceptual processing of body odors occurs through neural mechanisms responsible for the processing of a wide range of social information obtained through various sensory modalities, and this processing typically occurs without conscious awareness. . . . The implication is that just as the human brain evolved to efficiently extract information from other individuals’ appearances, it also evolved to efficiently extract information from their smells.”

Marlise Hofer, Frances Chen, and Mark Schaller. 2020.  “What Your Nose Knows:  Affective, Cognitive, and Behavioral Responses to the Scent of Another Person.”  Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 29, no. 6, pp. 617-623, https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721420964175

Mehahed and Ghoneim discuss lived experiences in homes during the pandemic (which boosted, for example, the desirability of sound-insulated home offices with large windows), the health-related challenges of high-density living, and the need for future, multi-story buildings to support “touchless experience from the front door to the apartment door itself. . . . The building might have wider corridors and doorways, and many more staircases. . . . Depending on how productive remote work proves to be in this pandemic, it is hastening the shift from structured office environments to more flexible, virtual, and home-based work arrangements, which could mean a reversal of the open-office trend. . . . The pandemic highlights the importance of distributing smaller units such as health facilities, schools, and services across more of the urban tissue and strengthen local centers. . . . cities should offer more safe paths and small roads for walking and micro-mobility than depending only on mass public transportation. . . . improving health through strategies such as greater natural light, improved ventilation, fewer toxic substances, and incorporating plants and other natural materials is necessary.”

Naglaa Mehahed and Ehab Ghoneim.  2020.  “Antivirus-Built Environment:  Lessons Learned from Covid-19 Pandemic.”  Sustainable Cities and Society, vol. 61, 102350, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2020.102350

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