Australian landscape architect Wil Whitfeld upgraded his design expertise by getting a Master’s Degree in environmental psychology at University of Surrey last year. Back in Sydney, where he recently started working at Oculus design studio, Wil eagerly accepted my proposition to do an interview about his study experience and the new insights it gave him. He also discusses his poetically titled dissertation research “Walking with your head in the clouds: The influence of pathway design on mindfulness, recall and affective state”, which he is presenting at this year’s EDRA conference in Los Angeles in less than a month.
In my search for enthusiastic practitioners in the field of environmental psychology, the same name popped up behind several interesting projects.
Maggie Melin from Michigan, US, completed graduate degrees in urban planning and sustainability science from the University of Virginia and Lund University in Sweden, and her master thesis Active Learning as a Tool for Behaviour Change was inspired by a summer spent working on organic farms (WWOOF) in Italy.
Prior to her studies in Sweden she was running a blog with tips for making our bathrooms more eco-friendly (The Green Toilet) and also worked at the Green Infrastructure Center while living in Virginia. Currently she is active in promoting biking and walking in the United States at both The Alliance for Biking and Walking in Washington, DC and the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago. The idea I associate with her name is well-expressed in the old saying “…watch your habits for they become your character”. Maggie helps us watch our habits and change for the better.
I found 10 more online courses that could be interesting if you’re into environmental psychology (part I here). Some are about to start, some already started, some are self-paced and some are finished but materials are still available, so check out and find the one you like:
1. Intro to the Design of Everyday Things at Udacity;
Something I was hoping for some time now is coming true. I’m very excited about the idea of free education available to all that’s successfully being translated into action through web services such as Coursera and EdX (and other Massive online open courses). Since I work in education myself, I find it very inspiring to be able to”attend” lectures by different experts in different fields from all around the world. I realize again and again how much I love learning (and miss college sometimes) and often remember how some of the great professors I had throughout my education made a big impact on me by expanding my horizons and transferring their enthusiasm for their subjects to us students. This is why I often find myself trying to follow more online-courses than my time permits (and successfully finishing much less), but enjoying nonetheless.
University of Pennsylvania campus in fall; photo by saikofish
Only 3 months ago I was e-mailing to all the environmental psychology departments that offer doctoral programs which I wrote about before (at Surrey, Irvine, Brasilia, CUNY, Rome and Cornell) to ask if they were planning to offer some environmental psychology related online courses . Most of them politely answered there wasn’t any such plans for near future. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to learn that among many online courses University of Pennsylvania provides through Coursera, there’s a new one about Designing Cities that could be interesting to anyone who likes environmental psychology.
Even though small towns and pre-planned communities I wrote about before offer an interesting context for any environmental psychologist, the appeal of big cities is undeniable. That’s why I’ll research options for a PhD in environmental psychology in two capitals of the world – one traditional and one contemporary – Rome and New York.
Rome panorama; photo by Giampaolo Macorig
It’s hard not to feel like a fragile creature with short expiration date while walking amid stone edifices that stood as silent witnesses of human history for over 2 thousand years. That’s just my experience of the historic center of Rome (listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site), anyway. The feeling is not bad, though. Even without tour guides and guide books, just being there feels like an incredibly enriching learning experience. An experience that is beyond words, for after all, buildings don’t speak in words. Yet somehow, they might be telling us more about mankind than you’d learn from psychology books.
Building a pre-planned city is as close as we came to creating a world of our dreams. Or somebody’s dreams, anyway. That’s why I see those places as very stimulating for environmental psychologists. It makes you wonder how people respond to such environments. At first glance, the wholeness of a single vision transferred into reality is just impressive. One can assume that pre-planned communities feel very comforting and safe due to their high levels of order, coherence and predictability.
Masdar City, UAE; photo by iied.org
Take a look at some of the futuristic dreams coming true at the moment – Tianjin in China, the zero-carbon, zero-waste Masdar in United Arab Emirates, or few others from all over the world. Not surprisingly, emphasis on sustainability is the key feature in all cities of the future mentioned above – green is a must at the moment. With good reason.
Needless to say to those who, like me, wish to pursue a doctoral study in it, environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field dealing with relations between humans and their environment. Its core idea is that where something happens matters, in a way that the environment influences how people feel and think and what they do. So, if you’re about to make a decision about getting a PhD in EnvPsych, you may want to make a choice consistent with the discipline by considering carefully where you’ll study it.
A look at people and their environment – natural, built and social; Slope day at Cornell University; photo by foreverdigital
It’s important to note that the environment can be defined very broadly, including natural environments, built environments and social settings. Also, learning environments and informational environments are especially interesting in this context.