EDRAite of the Month - William C. Sullivan
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William C. Sullivan

Professor & Head of Landscape Architecture
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

January 2015

William C. Sullivan

How do landscapes that we design, especially urban landscapes, impact the health and wellbeing of people? My students and I examine this question by measuring exposure to varying landscapes — the level of green infrastructure in neighborhoods, or the amount of nature on campuses, or the density of vegetation in urban spaces. We measure the impact of these places on people’s hormones, heart rates, brain waves, psychological states, and ability to pay attention.

I thank Rachel Kaplan for helping me find my path toward this research agenda. As my advisor at the University of Michigan, she helped me understand the joys of environment and behavior research first hand and she encouraged me to attend my first EDRA — EDRA 20 in Black Mountain, North Carolina — in 1989.

It’s been my sense that the most compelling problems we might address are at the intersection of disciplines. Thus, most of my research has been collaborative. I’ve had the great advantage to collaborate with Rachel Kaplan, Ming Kuo, and Chun-Yen Chang and have been blessed with a cadre of students who have been fearless in their pursuit of new ways to explore environment-behavior research.

One of my great joys in the past couple of years has been to work with Rachel and Avik Basu and a wide variety of authors in the development of Fostering Reasonableness: Supportive Environments for Bringing Out Our Best, published by the University of Michigan Press. This book is dedicated to Stephen Kaplan, who was also my teacher at Michigan, and seeks to extend and make accessible his ideas regarding Attention Restoration Theory, the role of the natural environment in well-being, and how information and emotion are central to understanding human functioning. If you haven’t yet seen it, you can read it for free here (http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/maize/13545970.0001.001).

In the coming months, my collaborator, Chun-Yen Chang, from National Taiwan University, and our students, will be exploring the impact of urban landscapes with varying levels of green infrastructure on human brain functioning. We’ll be using a new, high-definition fMRI machine in Taipei for this research. I look forward to sharing some new insights about this work with my EDRA colleagues in the coming months.

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