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As a student in Poland, Agnieszka Anna Olszewska was fascinated by the way that some landscapes seemed to be more contemplative than others. She wanted to research the reasons behind that calming effect, but she found little encouragement. “People told me I can write a novel, I can write a poem about the contemplativeness of landscape, but not a scientific paper.” One well-respected landscape architect told her it couldn’t be done because of the diversity of human responses: Some of us might find a garden conducive to contemplation; others might prefer the bathroom.
But Olszewska, now a doctoral candidate in landscape architecture and urban ecology at the University of Porto in Portugal, persevered. With a neuroscience professor at the university, she conducted a pilot project that culminated, earlier this year, in a conference paper titled “Urban Planning, Neurosciences and Contemplation for Improving Well-being in Our Cities.” It combined questionnaire results with measurement of brain waves in an effort “to prove that there are certain characteristics of urban parks and gardens that can induce in the visitor the pattern of brain activity that is associated with contemplative or meditative states.” […]