According to study these are the key features a ‘happy city’ needs

City planners and designers want to build cities that are liveable, healthy and smart. Yet, in the abundance of research and guidelines on how to make healthy cities, happiness seems to be missing.

Research shows urban environments have an impact on our well-being and mental health, affect our behaviour and moods, interactions, day-to-day lives and even alter how our brain functions.

Our recent study found people associate their happiness with particular natural and built elements in the environment. This highlights how we can improve the design of cities to enhance people’s happiness.

Searching Instagram

In the first part of our study, we searched Instagram for images of the city people associated with happiness. We did this using four hashtags:

  • #cityhappy
  • #happycity
  • #cityofhappiness
  • #urbanhappiness

The images came from all corners of the globe, with no geographical limitation.

We sifted through hundreds of images, excluding photographs that were “selfies”, had non-urban attributes, or if they included people posing. Overall, we narrowed it down to 196 images, all of which exhibited characteristics of an urban area.

We found photographs tagged with one of the above hashtags consistently featured particular design elements. These were:

  • open space
  • natural elements (vegetation, sand, rocks)
  • historic or heritage buildings
  • colour
  • medium density buildings (up to six storeys)
  • water
  • human scale buildings (horizontal rather than vertical).

The same features came up time and again, irrespective of demographic and geographic location. This supports the idea there may be universal urban features that enhance happiness.

We then tested these themes on Brisbane residents through an online questionnaire.

Online survey

Twenty-two people took part in the online survey. They were asked to evaluate their happiness relative to different features, characteristics and images of areas in Brisbane. The survey comprised a series of multiple choice, selection and rating questions.

The results showed participants associated happiness with the same features as those who had posted on Instagram using the above hashtags. Most common to happiness was open space (86 per cent of respondents) and natural lighting (81 per cent).

Natural spaces with greenery such as parks, gardens and areas with trees, as well as areas that had water, had a significant positive impact on respondents’ happiness. Proximity to facilities, walkability of the area, green belts and views to mountains were also significant factors.

Historic or heritage character buildings ranked pretty highly (72 per cent), over the more modern style buildings. Laneways also scored pretty highly (72 per cent) as did views of the city (68 per cent) and colour (59 per cent). We noticed people liked other things, such as the materials used on sidewalks, roads and building facades.

This pilot study confirms there are specific elements which can be incorporated and factored into the planning and design of cities to enhance people’s happiness. Our further research is currently building on these initial findings, focusing on the relationship between density, urban design and happiness.

How can we use this?

Happiness is a major component of human well-being. But it isn’t factored into the widely recognised quality of life (including health, well-being and a number of economic factors) and liveability (including the standard of living) surveys of cities.

Some evidence suggests average happiness levels in Western nations haven’t improved in the last 68 years (since 1950). This is despite first-world incomes more than doubling in that time.

Happiness studies look at the links between human “subjective well-being” and the environment. We can determine people’s preferences, subjective view and association with elements of the built environment through research, and then apply the lessons to design to improve the quality of the urban environment.

Our research highlights the key elements to be cognisant of in urban transformation projects and designing for future urban areas. These findings show we can use such knowledge and apply this to existing cities to retrofit them for happiness.

People are increasingly leaving the broad acre, single detached home to live in denser, more compact urban areas. There are many benefits to this urban settlement. But to make this lifestyle compatible with human happiness and foster mental health, the design, planning and governing policy needs to consider such factors.

Originally Published by, continue reading here.


Green homes give glimpse of renewable hydrogen future

Imagine a house where all the electricity is generated by rooftop solar.

Now imagine that, in addition, the stove, hot water and heating systems are all powered by the leftover energy.

It sounds like an emission-free pipedream, but the technology may be one step closer with the launch of a $3.3 million pilot project in Perth’s south.

Canadian gas giant ATCO is building a micro-grid at its Jandakot base, which will convert solar power into hydrogen fuel.

The micro-grid will use 1,100 solar panels to produce electricity, which will either power ATCO’s buildings or be diverted into battery storage.

Any leftover electricity will be used to power an electrolyser, which splits oxygen from hydrogen using water and an electric charge.

The oxygen is released, while the so-called “green” hydrogen is captured and stored.

The micro-grid will then divert the hydrogen in two ways — into a fuel cell for back-up power or into the reticulated natural gas network, to create a “greener”, lower-carbon fuel.

Blended natural gas and hydrogen fuels are already used in other countries and ATCO plans to test different blends at its operations.

‘A very local’ solution to energy storage

ATCO Australia managing director Pat Creaghan said the micro-grid offered the potential for large-scale recycling of excess solar power.

“It is a mixture of different technologies that we’re bringing together from some existing technologies to get a sense of how we operate in the future,” Mr Creaghan said.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) contributed $1.5 million in funding towards the project.

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said blending hydrogen with natural gas could help solve the challenge of energy storage.

“If you think about having a system that runs completely on wind and solar, which I think we will within a few decades … there’s going to be a big storage requirement and we need that across a variety of different storage mechanisms,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“If you have a lot of rooftop solar, for example, the electricity network can’t deal with a lot of rooftop solar being fed into it.

“You could potentially, on a very local level, turn some of that electricity into hydrogen and store it.”

While blended natural gas and hydrogen fuels are used overseas, it remains to be seen whether Australia’s gas pipelines will be able to transport them.

“Some of the existing natural gas lines are ready for it and some need some work before they will be,” Mr Frischknecht said.

The micro-grid is expected to produce its first hydrogen by the first quarter of 2019.

Originally Published by ABC, continue reading here.

Local government eyes social media for feedback

Work is underway on a new digital platform that will enable councils to capture and analyse conversations on social media as a means of improving community consultation on major projects.

The study involving two councils and a team of urban planners, policy experts and data analysts aims to ensure the “citizen voice” helps to drive smart city initiatives.

NSW’s City of Canada Bay and Queensland’s Logan City Council are participating in the project being led by the University of Sydney’s Smart Urbanism Lab and supported by the Commonwealth’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Program.

While there is sometimes a perception that smart city initiatives are led by technology, Dr Tooran Alizadeh, director of urban design at Sydney University’s school of architecture, said the project aimed to find a new way of “crowd sourcing” opinion on key local government initiatives.

“The conversations about the hot urban projects of the day are already happening in the public online domain, and we are essentially gathering them, categorising them and feeding them back to local governments,” she told Government News.

Sydney University’s Smart Urbanism Lab is leading the project.

The project, which involves the development of algorithms and tools to capture this information, will produce two dashboards – one for local government and one for the public.

“The fact we’re now building the citizen voice means we have a responsibility to feed that back to the public and tell people we heard them… it’s useful for individual members of the community to know the diversity of opinion,” Dr Alizadeh said.

The study will scrutinise social media feedback around two key projects for each of the participating local governments: Cronulla Park and the Yarrabilba development for Logan, and Parramatta Road and Five Dock for Canada Bay.

The dashboard will be fed by the live conversations happening on Twitter and Facebook, as well as those captured in reader comments on news sites’ coverage of the projects.

“It will be useful on two levels,” Dr Alizadeh said.

“The first is the live conversation which is important if they have a sudden issue or problem. The second is a longitudinal benefit because the longer we collect the data the more we will hopefully be able to make sense of the things that trigger reactions over the life of a project,” she said.

People’s attitudes towards urban projects and issues are usually dynamic, “so the only way we can make sense of them and how they change is if you keep an eye on it over a longer period,” she said.

Dr Alizadeh said the project would utilise the diverse skillset within the newly established Smart Urbanism Lab, which has staff expertise in urban planning, geography, policy making and big data.

An early version of the dashboard is expected in the next two to three months for the participating local governments to comment on, while the project is slated to conclude next May.

Logan City Council’s innovation committee chairperson, councillor Laurie Smith said social media presented a new opportunity to increase the reach of community consultation on planning and development.

“This gives residents another option to have their say on how their city develops and to feel included in council decision making,” she said.

Originally Published by Government News, continue reading here.

Present at the 11th International Urban Design Conference

The 2018 International Urban Design Conference will be held at the SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney, NSW over 12 – 13 November.

The conference will showcase innovations in projects and research embracing and creating transformational change in urban environments.

Topics will include exploring the potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts, urban design best practice, designing safety into a city, future proofing, connectivity and design quality outcomes.

The conference will also explore the links which create the concrete physicality of the built environment, the complex social, economic, political and cultural processes through which the physical urban form is produced and consumed.

Applications to Present and Registration are NOW OPEN!

Conference Topics Include:

  • Potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts
  • Regulating urban design
  • Safe city design
  • Transport
  • Design quality
  • Digital

Individuals and organisations are invited to submit an abstract (summary of your presentation) to deliver an oral presentation or poster presentation which addresses one or more of the conference topics. The abstract should be no more than 300 words and outline the aims, contents and conclusions of the presentation. Abstracts should not include tables, figures or references. Please also submit 3 key learnings of your presentation, as well as a 100 word biography of each presenting author.

All proposals will be reviewed by the Program Committee. Presentations will be selected to provide a Program that offers a comprehensive and diverse treatment of issues related to the Conference topics.

For more information on the 2018 International Urban Design Conference, topics, to submit your application to present, registration and more please visit the conference website at

Rail access improves liveability, but all regional centres are not equal

Our research on the liveability of regional cities in Victoria has identified an important element: liveability in these areas requires fast, reliable and frequent rail connections to capital cities.

Previous research has established that we need better models of early transport delivery in growth areas of Melbourne. Public transport, in particular, is an essential ingredient for a liveable community. Less attention has been paid to transport in regional areas, particularly regional areas with growing populations.

People living in regional areas still need access to capital cities. The reasons include employment, education, medical services, shopping, arts, culture and visits to family and friends.

Regional Victorians who lack access to reliable rail services remain deprived of non-car travel options. This forces them to drive and that adds to traffic congestion in our capital cities. Car dependency is costly for health and wealth.

Regional rail is important both to meet the needs arising from predicted population increases across regional areas and to manage the rapid population growth and sprawl of our capital cities. Australia’s population is predicted to increase by 45 million by 2100 and our cities are already expanding rapidly. We need to start thinking about where these extra people are going to live.

At present, most people (more than 80%) in Australia live in capital cities. However, as populations grow, more people will start moving to regional areas. This means we need to pay more attention to the liveability of regional Australia as well as capital cities.Wherever they live, people need transport to get to employment, education, shops and services, and to socialise with friends, family and community members. Furthermore, our research has found that having close access to a range of these things is associated with better health and well-being. Good access to frequent, reliable and fast transport is not a luxury. It is a critical factor influencing liveability and is described as a social determinant of health – one of the conditions (where we live, learn, work and play) that influence our health.

Liveable places promote health and well-being among the people who live there. However, they also require transport options, including public transport such as trains, buses, trams as well as walking and cycling. In regional areas expansive distances make it hard to get by without a private vehicle.

A good example of this is Mitchell Shire. It begins at the northern edge of metropolitan Melbourne and extends to the regional town of Seymour in northeastern Victoria.

The population is booming in this non-metropolitan shire. The small town of Beveridge is expecting to accommodate at least 150,000 people in new urban development over the next 30 years. To put that into context, the town had a population of just over 2,300 people in 2016.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.