In the summer of 2010, the CCDR was contacted by Central New York Services for design assistance for their three adjoining Single Room Occupancy properties on East Genesee Street in Syracuse’s Eastside neighborhood. CNY Services provides services to persons with mental health and substance abuse issues through outpatient treatment, housing, financial management, forensic mental health and employment programs. Kim Mann, the residence site supervisor, and Fern Whyland, CNY Services administrator, hoped for a garden design to actively engage, promote peace, and provide a therapeutic experience for the resident population. They believed a redesign of the yards could benefit the residents’ mental and physical health and improve the appearance of the property. The CCDR focused on the backyard, roughly 45’ x 90’, which joins two of the properties as the site of the garden
Topic Areas: therapeutic gardens, participatory design, mental illness
Project Scale: small, urban, group home garden
Accomplished by: Maren King, Jessica Gale, Nicole Mihevic (with assistance from graduate student Charles Hamilton)
Partners: CNY Services: Fern Whyland, Kim Mann and residents
How can the mentally ill population be engaged in the design process?
How should we frame workshops and interactions so people can share and feel safe while participating?
How can this engagement foster a sense of ownership and enthusiasm amongst residents and staff?
How do gardens improve the health and well-being of people with mental illness and to what extent can involvement in the design process contribute to well-being?
After two site visits and meeting some CNY Services staff and residents in fall 2010, CCDR staff crafted workshops to reflect literature review research on how to engage a community with co-occurring disorders and what challenges these individuals face. Initial research referenced studies from the National Institute of Mental Health, National Development and Research Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, and an interview with the director of recreation therapy at Hutchings Psychiatric Center.
Based on the literature review, each workshop was designed to be succinct and under a half hour in length, repetitious in activity style, and visually interactive. Multiple workshops between CCDR staff and residents were planned to cultivate consistency and trust. After each workshop, CCDR staff evaluated the effectiveness of activities and developed future activities accordingly.
The intent of each workshop was to promote enthusiasm and interest while addressing the kinds of garden spaces, vegetation, and activities residents would like to encounter in their new yard.
Using feedback from the residents and CNY Services staff, the CCDR staff produced three design alternatives. Each design was crafted in model form to use in the final workshops where residents chose their favorite design elements and alternative.
After meeting with CNY Services administration and staff to discuss the best viable alternative and impressions of the design process, a final design alternative was chosen. The design documentation was completed in spring 2011 by Jessica Gale for CNY Services. The results of the workshop process and final drawings were organized into a binder for CNY Services. The process and its conclusions were presented to the CNY Services administrative board and were received with enthusiasm. Jessica Gale and Nicole Mihevic prepared a poster summarizing the process and design which they presented at the Erasing Boundaries conference in April 2011. Additional information about the project process can be found in the Project Summary.
CNY Services and SUNY ESF are working together to ensure that the garden is implemented over the next several years, with continued student and resident participation.