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Ten years of collaboration with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Ten years of collaboration with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
   The “Built Environment and Health” session of the collaboration between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and National Taiwan University (NTU) represents a cooperative project between Professor William C. Sullivan from the Sustainability & Human Health Lab and Professor Chun-Yen Chang from the Healthy Landscape and Healthy People Lab, who have been cooperating closely for the past 10 years. The team has primarily focused on “landscape and human health” and collectively contributed a considerable number of publications on this subject. The team has worked to establish evidence-based landscape design via research to answer questions concerning the physiological, psychological, and social beneficial impacts of natural landscapes on humans. Moreover, they are also focused on developing a method of maintaining and sustaining an ecologically healthy landscape. In the past five years, the team has investigated the amounts of green areas, perception of green environments, biodiversity of green environments and different types of landscapes to understand how these variables affect human health. Lin, Tsai, Sullivan, Chang, and Chang (2014) have shown that street trees can enhance attention restorative ability, even without the participants’ awareness of them, and the group who paid attention observing street trees performed the best on attentional test.

If a person has a deeper connection with nature, he or she is more likely to experience an enhanced perceptual experience, and this experience may also improve the attention restorative ability (Tang, Sullivan and Chang, 2015). The characteristics of green environments may influence the benefits received from nature. Jiang, Chang, and Sullivan (2014) have shown that although a greater number of green areas is better, this relationship exhibits a curved line. This finding is popularly cited as a new understanding of the people-nature relationship. The biodiversity of an environment, one of the characteristics of environments, may positively and negatively influence human health. Chang, Sullivan, Lin, Su, and Chang (2016) used insects as an indicator to evaluate the biodiversity of urban green areas to examine the biofeedback response of participants, including electromyography (EMG), heart rate (HR) and blood volume pressure (BVP), and their results suggested that more and less biodiversity of green areas are influential factors on human physiological health indicators. Recently, the team has employed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) instrument to examine brain activation when viewing landscapes and performing landscape design. Tang et al. (2017) used urban, mountain, forest, and river landscapes as stimuli, and participants viewed these images when in the FMRI instrument. The results indicated that focusing on the urban landscape compared with mountain and river landscapes required greater attention from the participants, with increased activation of brain areas controlling attentional and visual ability. In summary, this paper illustrates the topics assessed by the team regarding the beneficial health effects of nature.

Figure 1. Examples of the experimental images (from top to bottom: urban, mountain, forest, and water; the left three images represent the environment, the right images show the baseline). (Tang et al., 2017)

Figure 2. Activated brain regions associated with “urban versus mountain”. The contrast was located in the cuneus, which is the basic visual processing brain area. (Tang et al., 2017)

Figure 3. Activated brain regions associated with “urban versus water”. The contrast areas were located in the cuneus, which is responsible for basic visual processing, and Brodmann area 31, which is responsible for adjusting attention (Tang et al., 2017).

   To connect the members closely and substantially, the team developed collaboration patterns. For example, the exchange student program “International Study of Landscapes and Health Program” initiated in 2013 consisted of the exchange of two to five students from NTU to UIUC every fall semester, and to date, a total of twenty students have visited UIUC. Additionally, one undergraduate student and two PhD students have participated in the exchange with NTU to acquire foreign learning experience and experimental expertise. The exchange students have experienced cultural differences, and they have also learned to think and participate deeply in classes during their stay at UIUC. Moreover, Professor Sullivan is now an adjunct professor at NTU and Professor Chang also serves as an adjunct professor at UIUC, and they give lectures and instruct thesis students. The conference workshop is also worthy of mention. To draw attention to the professional field of landscape architecture in relation to human health, the team holds a conference workshop at the CELA Conference (Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture) or the EDRA Annual Conference (Environmental Design Research Association) annually. Members from both laboratories share research concepts and results in the workshop, and professors lead the discussion to encourage communication among the attendees.

Figure 4. “Landscape and Human Health Workshop” at the 2017 CELA Conference.

In the future, the group will perform research to examine the relationship between landscape and human health and extend the research to environmental issues, such as environmental quality improvement of green infrastructures in urban areas, the resilience of urban landscapes, and disaster management. The collaboration between the Sustainability & Human Health Lab and the Health Landscape Health People Lab will continue. Thus, the network will grow over time, and as members graduate and establish new laboratories in other universities, the discoveries will be widely dispersed by the members.

1. Ying-Hsuan Lin, Chih-Chang Tsai, William C. Sullivan, Po-Ju Chang, and Chun-Yen Chang* (2014). Does awareness effect the restorative function and perception of street trees? Frontiers in psychology, 5, 906. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00906.
2. I-Chun Tang, William C. Sullivan, Chun-Yen Chang (2015). Perceptual evaluation of natural landscapes: The role of the individual connection to nature. Environment and Behavior, 47(6), 595-617. DOI:10.1177/0013916513520604.
3. Bin Jiang, Chun Yen Chang, William C. Sullivan (2014). A dose of nature: Tree cover, stress reduction, and gender differences. Landscape and Urban Planning, 132, 26-36. DOI:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2014.08.005.
4. Kaowen Grace Chang, William C. Sullivan, Ying-Hsuan Lin, Weichia Su and Chun-Yen Chang* (2016). The effect of biodiversity on green space users’ wellbeing—An empirical investigation using physiological evidence. Sustainability, 8(10), 1049. DOI:10.3390/su8101049.
5. I-Chun Tang, Yu-Ping Tsai, Ying-Ju Lin, Jyh-Horng Chen, Chao-Hsien Hsieh, Shih-Han Hung, William C. Sullivan, Hsing-Fen Tang, Chun-Yen Chang* (2017). Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to analyze brain region activity when viewing landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning, 162, 137-144. DOI:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2017.02.007.
6. The Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (LHHL). http://lhhl.illinois.edu/
7. The Lab of Healthy Landscape and Healthy People. http://cychang.hort.ntu.edu.tw/?lang=en

Professor Chun-Yen Chang
Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture