How Tranquil Spaces Can Help People Feel Calm and Relaxed in Cities

When you think about somewhere that is tranquil, what do you imagine? Whether it’s a wide open meadow, a deserted beach, or a river as it lazily flows along on a warm summer’s afternoon, research shows tranquillity is mainly found in natural outdoor environments.

These tend to be places where man-made noise is at a low level, but where natural sounds – such as bird song – can be relatively high. Such studies have also shown a link between these types of environments and levels of relaxation, stress reduction and even longevity and pain relief.

It’s clear then that tranquil spaces are good for your health – and yet the world’s population is becoming increasingly urban. There are more trucks, cars, and motorcycles on the roads than ever before resulting in higher levels of noise, pollution and litter. If you live in a busy city, finding tranquillity in your daily life can be a challenge.

Photo: article supplied

Maximum tranquillity

To find out what actually makes somewhere tranquil, we developed the Tranquillity Rating Prediction Tool. The tool measures two factors, the level of man-made noise – usually traffic – as well as the percentage of natural and contextual features in view. This includes things like if a place has a water feature, and lots of greenery. or if a place gives you a view of a religious or historic building – all of which our research shows help to boost the tranquillity of a place.

Based on these factors, the tool can predict the tranquillity of a place on a scale of 0-10. This is based on laboratory studies where people were asked to rate video clips of a range of environments for tranquillity levels. These clips included diverse settings, from a busy market place to natural coastal locations far from any development. Using this method we can not only identify existing (and sometimes overlooked) tranquil spaces, but also offer advice on how urban areas can be made more tranquil.

Our research shows that green spaces on side roads, which are often hidden from view, tend to have high levels of tranquillity due to the screening effects of buildings from the noise of busy streets. Pedestrianised squares in towns and cities were also shown to be acceptably tranquil because of the distance from traffic – some of these squares also featured grass and trees.

Similarly, well-maintained side streets – especially with avenues of trees – or heritage buildings can also score highly due to good visual attributes combined with low traffic noise. Close proximity to water was also shown to be good for tranquillity because it is naturally nice to look at and is relaxing to listen to.

This article was originally published by The Conversation.

Click here to read the entire article.

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Shaping Australian Cities: Driving Global Competitiveness Through Strategy and Design

The 10th International Urban Design Conference will be held at Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa, Gold Coast, Queensland from Monday 13 – Tuesday 14 November 2017. 

Australian cities
James Tuma

James Tuma, National Director – Design, will be joining us this year to discuss “Shaping Australian cities: Driving global competitiveness through strategy and design”.

What makes a city globally competitive? Where do Australian cities sit in the global context? How should we shape them?

Cities are human kind’s greatest achievement and challenge. Predictions indicate that by 2050 well over half of the world’s 5 billion people will live in cities. Investment in cities and real estate worldwide is estimated to more than double from 2012 to 2020. Cumulatively, cities globally represent the greatest opportunity to enact and effect change at a planetary scale.

This body of work considers the emerging language and strengths of cities and identifies ten strategic opportunities for Australian cities to address when it comes to their design and place in the world. This guidance is by no means exhaustive or definitive, however it aims to provide the foundation stones of creating a compelling national conversation about our shared urban future.

 This 10th International Urban Design Conference is an opportunity for design professionals to exchange ideas and experiences, to be creative and visionary, and to contribute to redesigning our urban futures.

Secure your spot for this year here.

Psychogeography: A Way To Delve Into The Soul Of A City

Psychogeography, as the term suggests, is the intersection of psychology and geography. It focuses on our psychological experiences of the city, and reveals or illuminates forgotten, discarded, or marginalised aspects of the urban environment.

Both the theory and practice of psychogeography have been around since 1955, when French theorist Guy Debord coined the term. While it emerged from the Situationist International movement in France, the practice has far-reaching implications. It’s relevant, for instance, in contemporary Sydney.

Psychogeographers advocate the act of becoming lost in the city. This is done through the dérive, or “drift”.

Because purposeful walking has an agenda, we do not adequately absorb certain aspects of the urban world. This is why the drift is essential to psychogeography; it better connects walkers to the city.

Psychogeographers idolise the flâneur, a figure conceived in 19th-century France by Charles Baudelaire and popularised in academia by Walter Benjamin in the 20th century. A romantic stroller, the flâneur wandered about the streets, with no clear purpose other than to wander.

In his 2013 Paris Review article, In Praise of the Flâneur, Bijan Stephen observes that the use of the flâneur “as a vehicle for the examination of the conditions of modernity” fell out of favour in the ensuing decades. Stephen poses the question:

But as we grow inexorably busier – due in large part to the influence of technology – might flânerie be due for a revival?

psychogeography of a city
Photo: article supplied

Walking as an act of insurgency

The revival had already begun, thanks to popular contemporary psychogeographers, notably Iain Sinclair and Will Self (whose book ‘Psychogeography’ was published ten years ago).

In his book London Orbital, Iain Sinclair describes a walk around the M25 and the “unloved outskirts of the city”. He observes:

I had to walk around London’s orbital motorway; not on it, but within what the Highways Agency calls the ‘acoustic footprints’. The soundstream. Road has replaced river. The M25 does the job of the weary Thames, shifting contraband, legal and illegal cargoes, offering a picturesque backdrop to piracy of every stamp.

Sinclair describes his walk as having a “ritual purpose” to “exorcise the unthinking malignancy of the Dome, to celebrate the sprawl of London”. He also describes walking as a virtue.

Self sees walking as “a means of dissolving the mechanised matrix which compresses the space-time continuum”. He describes the solitary walker as “an insurgent against the contemporary world, an ambulatory time traveller”.

Psychogeography is therefore useful in showing that walking is not only an art form in itself. It is also crucial in understanding the complication between the histories and myths of urban landscapes.

This article was originally published by The Conversation.

Click here to read the entire article.

Higher-density cities need greening to stay healthy and liveable

Access to high-quality public open space is a key ingredient of healthy, liveable cities. This has long been recognised in government planning policy, based on a large body of academic research showing that accessible green spaces lead to better health outcomes.

However, cities are home to more than just people. We also need to accommodate the critters and plants who live in them. This includes the species who called our cities home before we did.

Greening cities that are becoming denser is a major challenge. Green spaces and density are both good for health outcomes when designed well. However, higher-density development can place added pressure on green space if not well planned and managed.

The South Australian government is leading the way in the design of public green spaces in denser cities by bringing together the multiple actors needed to create change. This includes the Heart Foundation, Departments of Health and Ageing, Environment Water and Natural Resources, Office for Recreation and Sport, the South Australian Local Government Association and the Office of the Chief Architect, as well as researchers from RMIT University and the University of Melbourne.

This is the new shift required for urban greening practice – led by practitioners with support from research evidence provided by (and in collaboration with) academics.

In Victoria, Planning Minister Richard Wynne has called for the suburban backyard to be maintained in the refreshed Plan Melbourne 2017-2050. This policy recognises the importance of private green space by establishing minimum garden areas in new developments.

Another major challenge is increasing urban heat and climate change. Some tree species we know and love will no longer be viable in cities that are several degrees warmer than they were.

Suitable species for future climates need to be selected, as the City of Melbourne has recently demonstrated. Increasing temperatures and the resulting loss of old trees will have adverse consequences for public health, ecology and biodiversity.

Understanding how best to achieve these benefits, and the trade-offs involved in delivering them, is particularly important today. Our cities are growing rapidly. We are seeing increasing populations, greater housing density, rising temperatures, growing rates of obesity, diabetes, stress and depression, and declining native biodiversity.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

How do we create liveable cities? First, we must work out the key ingredients.

Liveable communities and resilient cities are buzzwords of the moment. But exactly how do you define a “liveable” community or city? Our research focuses on this exact question.

In an extensive review of liveability definitions used in academic and grey literature in Australia and internationally, we found some consistent factors. Critical factors for liveable communities are:

  • residents feeling safe, socially connected and included;
  • environmental sustainability; and
  • access to affordable and diverse housing options linked via public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure to employment, education, local shops, public open space and parks, health and community services, leisure and culture.


These are the essential ingredients for a liveable community. They are needed to promote health and wellbeing in individuals, build communities and support a sustainable society.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services agrees with our definition. It has been adopted in the recently released Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2015-2019. This plan provides the overarching framework to support and improve the health and wellbeing of all Victorians.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.