Browse by Subject
Contact Information

Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

You are here: NRS Home / Research Programs /Urban Natural Resources Stewardship / Natural resources and public health / Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-Being through Urban Landscapes
Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-Being through Urban Landscapes

[photo:] New York City Housing Authority Garden and Greening outreach coordinator Howard Hemmings (left) with Mr. Miller, a gardener at Mariner’s Harbor houses in Staten Island (photo used with permission from photographer Lloyd Carter, NYCHA).Research Issue

The Restorative Commons initiative explores sites and programs that feature creative design, foster civic stewardship of natural resources, and promote sustainability. Such restorative commons have the potential to support human health and help build resilient communities. Such restorative commons have the potential to support human health and help build resilient communities.

Our Research

Restorative Commons is a collection of 18 articles inspired by the Meristem 2007 Forum, "Restorative Commons for Community Health." The articles include interviews, case studies, thought pieces, and interdisciplinary theoretical works that explore the relationship between human health and the urban environment. Specific topics include community gardens, design of urban spaces, biophilia (affinity for living things), greening urban infrastructure, environmental stewardship, urban agriculture, and social reform programs involving urban greening projects.

This volume documents practices and principles that are being used to create Restorative Commons — either as small-scale experiments or as efforts to make innovative changes to large institutions.  Researchers contribute academic writing from the fields of medical history, evolutionary psychology, and urban planning.  Practitioners’ experiences and reflections are presented in essays, thought pieces, and interviews. Short essays by architects are intended to provoke reflection on real and potential changes in urban infrastructure. Case studies present lessons learned from both practitioners and researchers. Challenges that prevent projects from realizing their fullest potential are also discussed.

The authors believe that in order to support healthy cities, we must carefully consider the design, use, and care of open spaces and small natural areas while also championing urban people’s creativity and self-expression. We need to understand the profound impacts of social and economic inequality on urban residents’ health.  Well-designed and community-managed public spaces can help begin to address social justice issues, promote social cohesion, serve diverse communities, cultivate local economic systems, and support future generations through education and youth empowerment.

Expected Outcomes

This volume is a resource for urban planners, natural resource managers, educators, social workers, landscape architects, public and mental health and professionals, and others who are interested in learning about, creating, and using urban spaces to promote health and well-being.

Research Results

Campbell, Lindsay; Wiesen, Anne, Eds.  2009. Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-Being Through Urban Landscapes. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-39. Newtown Square, PA : U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 278 p.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Lindsay K. Campbell, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Anne Wiesen, Executive Director of Meristem, Inc.


  • Rob Bennaton, Community Coordinator, Garden & Greening Program, New York City Housing Authority
  • Davorin Brdanovic, Director, American Friends Service Committee Community Gardening Program, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Hillary Brown, Principal, New Civic Works, New York, NY
  • Judith Heerwagen, Principal, J.H. Heerwagen & Associates, Seattle, WA
  • Dil Hoda, C.E.O, Tern Group, Hoboken, NJ
  • James Jiler, Former Director, GreenHouse on Rikers Island, New York, NY
  • David Kamp, President, Dirtworks, PC Landscape Architecture; Meristem Co-founder and Board Member, New York, NY
  • Susan Lacerte, Executive Director, Queens Botanical Garden
  • Victoria Marshall, Founder and Principal, TILL, Hoboken, NJ
  • Robert Martensen, Director, Office of NIH History and Museum, National Institute of Health, Washington, D.C.
  • Ian Marvy, Executive Director, Added Value and Herban Solutions, Inc., Brooklyn, NY
  • Colleen Murphy-Dunning, Director, Urban Resources Initiative at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, New Haven, CT
  • Oliver Sacks, Columbia University Medical Center, Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry; Columbia University Artist; Albert Einstein College of Medicine and New York University School of Medicine, Professor of Neurology, New York, NY
  • John Seitz, Director of Sustainable Design, HOK, New York, NY
  • Edie Stone, Director, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation GreenThumb Program, New York, NY
  • Jeffery C. Sugarman, Associate Urban Designer, City of New York Dept. of City Planning
  • Erika S. Svendsen, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station


Last Modified: 05/08/2013