Case Study

Human Health

El Paso, TX: Campus Expands Urban Forest 60% for Mental Health

Above:

The Sustainable Sites Initiative

University of Texas-El Paso institutes urban forests on campus for mental health benefits.

Location
El Paso, TX
Population
679,000
Climate

Desert and Xeric Shrubland

Demographics

81%, White: 13%, African American: 4%, American Indian: 1%, Asian: 1.4%

inspired by Research

Numerous studies done by health professionals and government agencies have shown again and again that being surrounded by natural settings, specifically urban forests, tremendously improves mental health. Taking a 20 minute walk or sitting in a forested park within a bustling metropolis can reduce mental stress for people with ADHD, improve concentration and promote creativity.

This was taken into account in University of Texas- EL Paso (UTEP) where the vegetative area was expanded by 60% in their Campus Transformation Project. The Project partnered with the International Society of Arboriculture and thanks to their Sustainable Sites Initiative, the landscape became conducive to a healthy campus.

Designed for Mental Health

Previously, the campus consisted of pavement and rock designed common spaces without much green space leading to a campus lacking access to favorable mental restorative conditions.  In order to combat stress associated with academics and work new trees were planted and the campus was beautifully redesigned. Despite being located in a desert region, there are numerous native trees such as the Live Oak, Honey Mesquite, Desert Willow, and Mexican Palo Verde that can survive high heat and little precipitation. These trees were strategically planted, alongside native shrubs and cacti, in nine new campus commons. These plantings were designed with the community’s health as the highest priority and aimed to improve mental relaxation using Attention Restoration Theory (ART), a cognitive functioning theory that explains how natural settings reduce stimuli and allow the brain to rest.

Hidden among the trees in shady locations there are spots for students to simply restore their mental health and find reprieve from their studies, an effective way to reduce the stresses associated with academic work. In addition to the quiet spaces, open commons in rotundas and stadium like seating offer a chance for UTEP members to connect with each other in a natural and calming environment.University of Texas - El Paso Campus Transformation Project

Funding
  • Budget for overall Campus Transformation Project: $14,935,380
Partners
  • University of Texas-El Paso
  • Campus Transformation Project
  • Sustainable Sites Initiative
  • International Society of Arboriculture
Lessons Learned
  • The budget for such improvements is a high startup cost.
  • Since the integration of a simulated urban forest on site, students and faculty have a greater sense of relaxation and a decrease in mental stress when walking on campus.
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