Greening the city — a measurement for a mindful environment

Uh, it’s science, yeah, that’s the ticket SCIENCE! ~ctm

From Eurekalert

Public Release: 3-Jul-2017

University of Bradford

Scientists at the University of Bradford have developed the world’s first Tranquillity Rating Prediction Tool (TRAPT), a scientific process for measuring how relaxing urban environments and public spaces are.

In a new paper published in the Urban Forestry and Urban Greening journal, lead researcher Professor Greg Watts believes that the tool could help planners, architects and environmentalists to understand what the impact of ‘greening’ measures like introducing trees, hedges or additional vegetation could have on urban spaces. It is hoped that in time the tool could allow users to optimise green spaces as part of the property development process, all before a spade hits the ground or to rejuvenate run-down suburbs and town centres.

Studies have illustrated a clear link between tranquil environments and stress reduction, well-being and pain relief. While quiet, green spaces promote relaxation, litter, graffiti and road noise all have the potential to reduce it. Introducing vegetation into an environment to soften it – a process called ‘greening’ – is one way to improve tranquillity, but until now architects and planners have had to make assumptions as to the impact this will have.

“Currently, architects design urban environments to provide open spaces where people can relax. While it’s guided by certain principles, it’s not scientific. TRAPT provides a robust and tested measure of how relaxing an environment currently is, or could be once built,” explains Professor Watts.

The TRAPT system uses three measures of an urban environment including soundscape, landscape and moderating factors – the amount of natural features like trees, shrubs, flowers or water in the eye-line for example. When processed, the environment is given a score between 0 and 10. As an example, an outstanding tranquil environment was Glen Etive in the Scottish Highlands that elicited a high average score of 9.1 though an urban park can exceed 7.

“TRAPT provides the user with a simple measure for understanding how tranquil and relaxing it can be. By varying different factors – the amount of greenery, or introducing noise attenuating barriers or quieter road surfaces for instance – planners can understand the impact of their decisions,” Professor Watts adds.

Based at the Bradford Centre for Sustainable Environments, Professor Watts and his team have spent over 10 years testing and validating the system in both laboratory and field studies.

“We’re confident that our testing has helped us to create a tool that provides a realistic and reliable measure of relaxation,” claims Professor Watts.

Through the practical application of TRAPT, Professor Watts hopes that his research could help architects, planners, civic leaders and environmentalists to gain a greater understanding of the impact of decisions they take.

“TRAPT could be used to help architects design rewarding and relaxing urban environments. Planners can use it to assess how tranquil new developments would be, making changes to the plans if required.” The tool could also be useful to environmentalists arguing against the removal of trees, shrubs or urban green spaces. Residents could argue for more trees, shrubs and flowers to improve the appearance of jaded town centres and suburban areas.

“These measures should also help to counter threats such as over development, tree removal or traffic densification that might threaten existing benefits,” says Professor Watts.

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[UPDATE] I trust that Charles The Moderator, who deserves all of our appreciation for stepping in to keep the site humming along, won’t mind if I add this link to the underlying math and details of the TRAPT algorithm.

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35 thoughts on “Greening the city — a measurement for a mindful environment

  1. If anyone can find their “system”, i would be most interested in their analysis of the Central Park area of New York City

    • Tension headaches are common and serious.

      Stress is the most commonly reported trigger for tension headaches. link

      The Japanese use forest walks to relieve stress and it’s almost a religion for them. link

      Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system before and after exposure to the woods. These cells provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention. In a 2009 study Li’s subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity in the week after a forest visit, and positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.

  2. 10 yrs of testing and validation…lol.

    It’s common-sense that people like views or water and plants, dislike road and mechanical noise, dislike graffiti, etc.

    But these are things people generally see when they are not in a home or office, which is comparably a small amount of time.

    • “It’s common-sense that people like views or water and plants, dislike road and mechanical noise, dislike graffiti, etc.”
      I disagree. Sometimes it is common sense, Sometimes it is just plain boring. Canberra is an example of boring. We drove around it, wondering if there was a livelier, scruffy bit, a bit of action and vulgarity to offset all those endless lawns. Picked up a police escort didn’t we.
      I have been a practicing town planner for 47 years, and have won awards for excellence in urban design, both as an individual and as a member of a team. I guess I’ll read through this stuff carefully, but Tranquility Index? Sounds like another town planning shibboleth. (Shibboleth: something the in-crowd believes in, but the rest of us know is bs.) They need to have some contrasting indices, eg LTGM (likely to get mugged) Index, maybe an ATGG (asking to get graffiti’d) Index …

      • Jane Jacobs would say that it’s worse than boring.

        The fundamental rule of the neighborhood sidewalk also applies to the neighborhood park: “liveliness and variety attract more liveliness; deadness and monotony repel life.” Jacobs admits that a well-designed park in a focal point of a lively neighborhood can be an enormous asset. link

        Urban trees provide tremendous benefits and they don’t preclude the kind of lively environment advocated by Jane Jacobs. link

      • My observation with so much of “wonderful new design and build” is how those that plan these things seem blind to the fact that as soon as the builders leave the pigeons will move in and they have to get people to come and fit nets and spikes to keep them from roosting over walkways and other “people friendly” areas (usually the windiest part of the whole design).
        I asked an architect why they weren’t planned in and was told its cost related (spend more to put right than to build in).

        James Bull

    • No, not all people like the same things. Some people hate open spaces. I am not fond of living in or near forests, but they’re okay to drive through or for recreation. Flat open spaces are fine with me, one of my relatives finds them distasteful and wants trees around. Personally, if it’s good graffiti, I like it. Love watching trains go by just to see the graffiti. We’re all very different in what we like and don’t like.

      A city would do well to try and include several of these factors, rather than having people study what is “most effective”. Usually, variety is most effective.

  3. I cannot quite believe that there is such a thing as a “journal of urban Forestry and Urban Greening”. Are you sure these researchers didn’t start it themselves just to ensure their stuff had a market? 😂😂

    • Short answer ‘yes’, of course they do. They go to the university bar, get pissed, make the name up then leave it to the “science communicators” (aka the marketing department) to sell the crap that goes into it. Standard marketing 101.

    • >> the abandoned suburbs of Detroit must be true tranquility.
      From the photos I seen, not green. Look like the aftermath of a war zone. Quite perhaps, but not peaceful.

  4. From the link provided above:

    “Here TR is the subjective tranquillity rating on a scale ranging from 0 (low) to 10 (high), LAmax the maximum sound pressure level, LAeq the equivalent continuous sound pressure level, and NF the percentage of natural features (excluding sky) present within the scene.”

    If it’s subjective, it is not science.

    Obviously, Niagra Falls is not relaxing or tranquil.

    TRAPT is some yoyo’s, who has spent the last ten years on the public dole, idea of an urban Seng Fhui math model.

  5. The TRAPT system uses three measures of an urban environment including soundscape, landscape and moderating factors – the amount of natural features like trees, shrubs, flowers or water in the eye-line for example. When processed, the environment is given a score between 0 and 10. As an example, an outstanding tranquil environment was Glen Etive in the Scottish Highlands that elicited a high average score of 9.1 though an urban park can exceed 7.

    Scottish Highlands are great, but urban parks tend to have more trees, shrubs and flowers than this:

    • Does the score go down when the energy from weather turbines go up? After all, they are claimed to be ecofriendly and delightful to look at.

    • I’ll see your Scottish Highlands, and raise you by Texas Big Bend… Its desert surrounding some mountains covered in forest. You can sit upon the South Ridge and stare out across Mexico into unending desert. I cannot recall a more relaxing view. Natural scenes are often grand and for some reason have a profound effect upon all (most, some) of us.

      It isn’t just planting some plants/trees that will improve the city, you need to create an area of natural beauty here and there to get the full effect. Art and growing things can combine to make something much more impactful than either is by itself. Combine plants, trees, elevation and some water in an artful way and you get a tiny patch of paradise.

      Just one problem – then someone lets their kid lose who falls down because they do something risky and the parent sues and the park is changed to make it less dangerous – rinse and repeat until all that was good about the park is gone. So you really can’t win. Flat grassy spots surrounded by high fences (for safety because you could slip on the grass) is about the best you can do anymore.

      (Yeah, I have watched this happen to a small park in a city over time… Its such a shame)

  6. Arguable we have a Cause & Effect ‘situation’ going on here.

    The Enquiring Mind would like to know why the need for this tranquillity and relaxation (T&Q)?
    And 2 points..
    1. Are the hyper intelligent people we now all are, being au-fait with quantum thermodynamics & radiative heat transfer, are we not able ourselves to determine our own levels of T&Q?
    Do we really need to be told?

    Going on from #1, why the perceived need for this extra or increased T&Q and/or the mapping of places with high levels of T&Q? Relaxation from what? Tranquil compared to where/what?

    The old/cynical/wizened amongst us will be quite aware of what.
    Namely, being endlessly told by well-intentioned but otherwise interfering busy-bodies from Government telling us what to do, how to do it, when to do, what car to drive, power to use etc etc and then being taxed to extinction (falling birth rates anyone?) for the privileged of receiving all this ‘good advice’

    Such a constant barrage of what/when/how/pay/pay/pay produces stress?
    Hence the need for T&Q?

    As it happens, stress is seen through elevated levels of Cortisol in the blood stream.
    As it happens, The People (the really intelligent ones and who isn’t these days?) have already devised a cheap and effective self medication for (Government imposed) stress and are using it with great ‘success’

    Its called ‘Eating sugar’
    Any sugar will do but cheapest of all is Glucose, as derived from eating carbohydrate food.
    Glucose promotes Dopamine in the mammalian brain, Dopamine being a quite effective antidote to the effects and feelings brought on by elevated Cortisol.
    Also available in liquid form, sometimes called Soda Pop.

    Sugar does have side effects of course but one of these actually serves really well as an indicator of the levels of stress people are under.

    Usually given the posh medical term “Obesity”

    So, are all those fat people you see around you really happy, being full of Dopamine, or really stressed, their blood coursing with large amounts of Cortisol.

    Oh bastid no no no. Please tell me no!!!
    Another cause & effect conundrum.

    How will Government fix that little conundrum?

    I can read your Skeptical little mind can’t I?
    You’re thinking, “Oh sh1t, more good intentions and the concurrent resulting stress”

  7. Stress is relative.
    A coddled suburban kid from The North Shore would be terribly stressed out if forced to live in the projects in Chicago’s inner city. Vice versa, a gangbanger from the projects would be terribly stressed out if forced to live in the park-like suburbs. Trees & flowers would have little impact on that stress level.

    • Agreed guidoLaMoto:

      I’ve witnessed quite a few urbanites losing it when faced with insects or animals in rural or wild settings.

      Nothing like noises in the brush or large moths fluttering out of dark shadows to share the light to reduce cloistered city folk to gibbering cowards.
      It is rather frightening to witness even rabid eco-looney green freaks turn raveningly murderous when faced with harmless snakes.

  8. What do they all say? Publish or perish? This “study” tells me that it’s never been easier to publish.
    /snark

  9. Then the enviros destroy all the remaining open space with bird-killing useless energy from weather towers. I think this is what we call a “con”. Enviros don’t care about the environment, only dictating what everyone will and won’t have. The environment means nothing to them, nor does nature or the planet. Only control of other human beings.

  10. The budget for maintenance of green spaces is not trivial. Especially in warm, wet climates where everything grows like crazy. But no problem for greenies, just raise taxes.

  11. Light and a sense of open space, crammed in with green stuff makes little difference if it’s crowded and or dim.

    You need open space, otherwise you feel boxed in. Even large windows have a positive effect greater than house plants on your disposition.

    Food for thought

  12. Different people are calmed by different things. These vary between individuals and cultures. So while being better than nothing, I can’t see this being that useful. Unless the factors can be adjusted for cultural factors.

  13. Urban pollution on the increase. Time for cities to get real about how to keep it under control, particularly in developing countries with expanding urban populations.

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