04 Dec 5 Q’s with Dr. Nesha Beharry-Borg
In this 5 Q’s feature, we got a glimpse into the fascinating mind of Dr. Nesha Beharry-Borg, director of Centrascape, a 35-year-old garden centre design and landscaping company here in Trinidad and Tobago
The home garden and landscaping industry has experienced significant growth during this global pandemic; the benefits of plants beyond the aesthetic is increasingly appreciated through their ability to purify air, positively affect the mental psyche and bring vibrancy to our safe havens. Nesha is the daughter of Balliram and Chandra Beharry, the founders of Centrascape. Her parent’s passion have afforded her an invaluable experience in the world of agriculture. Nesha holds a PhD. in Environmental Economics and is highly skilled in Agricultural Business Management and Natural Resource Management. She is an academic who has worked on the valuation of global and local environmental resources such as water, land and agriculture. Today, Nesha’s unique skillset has proven itself more valuable than ever as she continues to transform Centrascape into the leading Garden Center and Landscaping company in Trinidad.
ACLA architecture: At ACLA architecture we often find ourselves attempting to justify the value of architectural services, do you face this issue as it relates to landscaping? What are the proven economic, environmental and social effects of professional landscaping?
Dr. Nesha Beharry-Borg: In the landscaping field, we find ourselves in an even more vulnerable position as people tend to value the built environment even more than they do the landscaped one. I think this has to do with our level of development as a region; we were and are still very much focused on industrialization to improve our economic growth. While we have made significant efforts on preserving our natural environments within pockets throughout the country, the integration of the environmental, economic and social impacts are not fully integrated into our decision-making for continued development. As a result of this, the environmental and social impacts of our development decisions is undervalued. The Landscaping sector is not insulated from this, and so we continuously face the challenge of having to communicate the importance of this sector nationally and globally. There have been numerous studies showing the positive impact of landscape design on house prices. For example, the specific landscape design criteria that are most highly valued are spaces that create a sense of comfort, safety and security. In order to incorporate this, the landscape elements that are most highly rated are plants, lawns, garden benches and gazebos. Therefore, maximizing the opportunities of the built and landscaped environment to incorporate the social, environmental and economic benefits will determine the overall environmental quality of the designed spaces now and into the future.
ACLA: The term sustainable landscape design has become quite the buzz word recently, in its purest form, what does this mean and how can it be incorporated into home and commercial gardens?
NBB: Sustainability has become one of the buzzwords of the year and this is positive for the field in general as I think most persons have developed a renewed appreciation for gardening, plants and food. There are very simple ways that sustainability can be incorporated into gardens. A simple example of this is minimizing paving with the use of more permeable materials such as bark, grasscrete pavers, aggregates and mulch. The plant selection within the garden is one that is also key and dictates the level of sustainability that can be built in. It is not only important to choose the right plant for the level of light the garden is exposed to, but also to include plants that are hardy and therefore require less water such as Agaves, Bromeliads and Bougainvilleas. Another easy way to incorporate sustainability is by choosing plants that support pollination. There are numerous to choose from such as Hummingbirds Trumpets, Pentas and Marigolds. Instead of using lawn grasses which requires more maintenance and water, you can also use groundcovers which are relatively inexpensive and require less maintenance. Finally, the use of trees and palms that are suitable for the spaces is also very important especially in commercial landscapes. Trees help to create microclimates which assist with extreme temperatures and also maximizes carbon capture and storage.
ACLA: Biophilia in the workplace has now moved from being a global design trend to being of key importance in international design briefs What has your experience been like with biophilia in the Caribbean and what you think we owe its slow start to? How can a post COVID 19 world benefit from biophilia?
NBB: In the small island states of the Caribbean, we are very lucky to be living in an environment where we are inherently connected to nature just through our geography. I think this is the main reason there has been a slow adoption to biophilia as we do not experience the craving for a natural connection experienced by populations in big cities. Having said that, urbanization continues to increase and therefore the need to incorporate biophilic elements especially in commercial designs of hospitals, educational and retail spaces is gaining importance. The willingness to pay for the attributes related to biophilia in a commercial environment have been well documented. Some of these elements include improving the internal and external views of nature, the use of natural materials, the improvement of air quality and improved natural lighting.
COVID 19 has reminded us all of basic principles, one of which is that we all connected to each other and that our relationships with each other and our planet should come first. In addition, our connection to nature can improve our sense of wellbeing and productivity. This is the basis of Biophilia (i.e. love of nature) and design can definitely help us achieve this. There are real financial and health implications of biophilic design such as reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. I think organisations have the opportunity and in many cases have been forced to reinvent their work spaces globally. We can use this opportunity to have more human and nature connected designs and reap the benefits of a biophilic environment.
ACLA: You’ve brilliantly managed to obtain a PhD in Environment Economics. From an economic standpoint, why is climate change important for us in the Caribbean and through landscaping + gardening? What small steps can both small homeowners and large commercial entities take to drive T&T towards a more sustainable economy?
NBB: As small island states in the Caribbean, we are particularly vulnerable to consequences of the one degree Celsius of global warming through rising sea levels and more extreme weather conditions. Climate change threatens our economies in the Caribbean; the two main sectors affected are our agricultural production and tourism. Work is being done internationally and locally to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but in the interim we can definitely contribute through landscaping and gardening. I think change comes firstly from awareness and knowledge and then, in the case of public goods, we need to place the right incentives to drive those necessary changes. So for instance, capturing and communicating the economic and social values of a sustainable landscape is one way to raise awareness. Providing practical strategies by creating guidelines for incorporating sustainability within the built and landscaped environments is another way. One of the easier approaches to do this is through the adoption of green spaces throughout our country by commercial entities. This could create the economic conditions to facilitate implementation of green protected spaces by engaging with the private, public and non-governmental sectors.
ACLA: From a social standpoint, what can planning + design professionals such as ourselves do to positively change the public perception of our natural environment?
NBB: We have the unique opportunity as planning and design professionals to be a champion for the natural environment as the opportunities present themselves with our clients and partners. We can use examples and case studies to show how the natural environment can benefit not only our people and planet, but also productivity, and thereby profitability. For any change to be sustainable. it really does have to be profitable, especially in the challenging economic environment. We are about to enter a period of financial conservatism for our survival. As a community together, with the private and public sector, we can work together on projects that will benefit public spaces and increase the access of these spaces to the public.
For any comments or questions please feel free to email Nesha Beharry-Borg on [email protected].