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 Domain.com.au, continue reading here.

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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.

Why the need for speed? Transport spending priorities leave city residents worse off

Australian governments are set to spend more on transport infrastructure than ever before. Federal and state infrastructure spending, driven largely by transport projects, was expected to total $31.6 billion in 2018, increasing to $38 billion in 2021, even before the latest Commonwealth spending announcements. Will all this construction make it easier for us to get around, our journeys more enjoyable, or our cities more liveable for a growing population?

Since the 1950s, spending on transport infrastructure has largely been justified on the basis of its ability to increase travel speeds or reduce travel times. For example, the New South Wales government estimates its $17 billion WestConnex toll road will deliver travel time savings motorists would value at about $13 billion. But new tolls will largely cancel out any benefit. This means the ultimate beneficiary will be the toll road corporations.

Australian governments are set to spend more on transport infrastructure than ever before. Federal and state infrastructure spending, driven largely by transport projects, was expected to total $31.6 billion in 2018, increasing to $38 billion in 2021, even before the latest Commonwealth spending announcements. Will all this construction make it easier for us to get around, our journeys more enjoyable, or our cities more liveable for a growing population?

Since the 1950s, spending on transport infrastructure has largely been justified on the basis of its ability to increase travel speeds or reduce travel times. For example, the New South Wales government estimates its $17 billion WestConnex toll road will deliver travel time savings motorists would value at about $13 billion. But new tolls will largely cancel out any benefit. This means the ultimate beneficiary will be the toll road corporations.

Rethinking the need for speed

The need for speed is being questioned in other aspects of modern life. The Slow Food Movement urges us to savour and enjoy our meal times, rather than view eating as an unwelcome interruption to our busy days.

For my PhD research, I asked a similar question of our travel time. What if it’s seen not only as a cost to be minimised, but as valuable time that can be used to work, exercise or relax?

It’s important to note that average daily travel times don’t decline no matter how much is spent on transport infrastructure. How then can investment be prioritised to make our travel time more enjoyable and productive, while at the same time improving access to economic and social opportunities?

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

Locals call for a ‘High Line’ on Sydney’s north shore

Residents of the Sydney suburb of Lavender Bay are pushing for a linear park to be developed along side a historic rail line that would provide a pedestrian link between Lavender Bay and Waverton Station.

Established in 2016, the Sydney Harbour High Line Association describes itself as “a group of like-minded people that sees the importance of building on the amenities to support the huge growth in the number of people living in Sydney in general and the lower north shore in particular.”

According to the Mosman Daily, earlier in April the association met with a State Government committee, where it presented its detailed plans for the publicly held land that lies beside the railway. If the project goes ahead, the park would be operated by North Sydney Council.

Proposed ramp access from Harbourview Crescent. Image: Sydney Harbour High Line

The heritage-listed rail line is not used for a passenger service, but is used by Sydney Trains for driver training. The site is significant due to its connection to artist Brett Whiteley, who famously painted scenes of Sydney Harbour from his home in Lavender Bay, adjacent to the railway tracks, as well as the “secret garden” created by Brett’s former wife Wendy. The Whiteleys’ house and garden were both recently added to the state heritage register.

Local state MP Felicity Wilson, who supports the project, told the Mosman Daily that she had “secured an agreement from Sydney Trains to explore the feasibility of installing a segregated walking track alongside the current active line.” The proposal is inspired by and takes its name from the High Line in New York City, an elevated railway conversion designed by Diller Scofidio and Renfro. This was in turn inspired by the first rail park, the Coulée verte René-Dumontin in Paris, which opened in 1993.

Originally Published by ArchitectureAU, continue reading here.

World’s best city to live in is Vienna, says 2018 Mercer Quality of Living Index.

London, New York or Paris may be exciting places to live.

But Vienna is considered the best city in the world to reside, according to a new ranking by Mercer, one of the world’s largest human resources consulting firms.

Austria’s capital is known for opulent palaces and monuments of past emperors and other nobility, as well as its cozy coffee houses and wine bars.

Not to mention, its low crime rate, low pollution, excellent public transportation and health care.

Mercer annually releases its Quality of Living Index, which ranks more than 200 cities on the quality of life.

In second place is Zurich, followed by Auckland, New Zealand; Munich; and Vancouver, Canada.

The Graben and its plague column in Vienna’s old town.

European cities generally took the lead over US cities. San Francisco was the first American metropolis on the list, ranked as the 30th best city in the world to live. Boston and Honolulu, Hawaii, entered the list in 35th and 36th place.

Nearly all of the cities considered to be least livable are in Africa or the Middle East, with Baghdad at the bottom of the list.

Living conditions were analysed by 10 categories, including political and social environment, economics, culture, heath, education, transportation, availability of food, recreation, housing and nature.

The top 10 cities to live in

  1. Vienna
  2. Zurich
  3. Auckland, New Zealand
  4. Munich
  5. Vancouver, Canada
  6. Dusseldorf, Germany
  7. Frankfurt
  8. Geneva
  9. Copenhagen
  10. Basel, Switzerland

[Sydney was ranked 11th most liveable, Melbourne was 16th, Perth was 21st, Adelaide was 29th, Canberra was 30th, and Brisbane was 37th.]

Originally Published by the Australian Financial Review, view article here.