Research has shown that spending time in a tranquil outdoor environment is able to increase one’s sense of well-being and reduce stress and pain. In contrast, litter, graffiti, and road noise all have the potential to raise anxiety and agitation.
Planting trees, bushes, and flowers in an urban environment — a process called “greening” — is a proven way to improve the tranquility of the residents, but until now, architects and planners have had to make assumptions as to the exact impact these changes will have.
Now, UK scientists at the University of Bradford have developed the world’s first tool designed to rate relaxation levels in urban environments and public spaces — it is called the Tranquillity Rating Prediction Tool (TRAPT).
“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,” said lead researcher Professor Greg Watts.
Watts believes that the tool could help those involved in city planning better understand the impact of “greening” on urban spaces. In time, the tool could allow users to optimize green spaces as part of the property development process, all before any work begins to rejuvenate run-down suburbs and town centers.
The TRAPT system uses three measures of an urban environment: soundscape, landscape, and moderating factors (natural features like trees, shrubs, flowers, or water). Then the environment is given a score between zero and 10. For example, Glen Etive in the Scottish Highlands, an outstanding tranquil environment, was given a high average score of 9.1.
“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,” said Watts. “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 be useful for environmentalists in their efforts to protect old-growth trees, shrubs or urban green spaces and for residents who desire 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,” said Watts.
The findings are published in the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening.
Source: University of Bradford