Urban psychology on the streets

Three young people wearing headsets are looking at their smartphones in an outdoor settingColin Ellard outlines the work of the Urban Realities Laboratory at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Using devices for either tracking eye movements or heart rates, students took their research to the streets. They measured responses to features such as green space, visual complexity and interaction with traffic. The article is titled, A new agenda for urban psychology: out of the laboratory and into the streets.  In his summary, the author argues that with the expansion of urban centres across the globe, being able to live healthily and comfortably, we must also consider our mental health as well as any other physical attributes.

The Laboratory’s mission is “to explore the connection between individual psychology and urban design in order to elaborate the principles that might contribute to psychological resilience and wellbeing in the urban environment”.  


Sustainability from an ergonomic perspective

Aerial view of a city with tall buildings. It is a black and white photo with bright green overlay on some of the buildingsThe focus of sustainability has been on energy efficiency and all things “green”. But sustainability should have a broader context argues Erminia Attaianese. She claims that this narrow focus is paradoxical as maximising the building’s efficiency is not always maximising the comfort and efficiency of the building’s occupants. Taking a human ergonomic approach to design, the author argues for a better outcome for both the building and its users. Note, the paper looks as if it has been through a poor translation and is not easy to read. But the conclusions at the end are clear enough. The title of the paper is, Ergonomics of Built Environment i.e. How Environmental Design Can Improve Human Performance and Well-Being in a Framework of Sustainability

Abstract: Ambient conditions in buildings are called to assure a delicate balance between environmental pressure and a so variable human response, the first expressed by the level and the combination of different environmental stimuli from physical factors, the second elicited by a wide range of individual capacities activated by people to cope and to elaborate those stimuli. Ergonomic /Human Factors approach is crucial in design of a physical space intended as an environmental support for users performance and comfort, since it provides theoretical principles, data and methods for understanding the interactions among humans and other elements of whatever system, and for identifying how conditions are able to make that system really fitting its users’ needs and expectancies. Starting from an overview about effects on occupants of buildings physical factors, the paper summarizes principles of ergonomic design of built environment, for tending to sustainable and really supportive living environments for people. 


Cutting car use closes health and wealth gaps

A dark car viewed front on showing grille and headlightsThe Conversation has published another article in its series Healthy Liveable Cities. We know that active travel has positive health benefits. But now entering the debate is the cost of car ownership – costs which are often not calculated by car owners. The article describes four scenarios on housing and car ownership and the weekly costs to the households. The costs range from over $300 a week to $24 a week using Melbourne as the benchmark. Costs of public transport vary considerably from state to state and from city to regional areas, but the point is made. The article is based on research from University of New South Wales and is well worth reading to the end.

Editor’s note: Poverty can be exclusionary when people are constrained from participating in the basic activities of life.


Who says it is liveable?

Urban landscape with shade trees and lots of casual seating with people sitting.Cameron Jewell writes in Fifth Estate that the notion of liveability should be questioned when it comes to Australian cities. This is in spite of our cities regularly ranking highly on this measure. Jewell says there is little evidence cities are achieving their policy targets for walkability, public transport or public open space. He is commenting on a report of five years of research, Creating Liveable Cities in Australia. At the end of the article are the seven key recommendations. Evidence based policies tops the list. Accessibility gets a brief mention in terms of employment and amenities. The questioning should include accessibility and universal design. If one in five of us is living with disability, and double that at least for including inconvenienced family members, we are not making places and spaces liveable for everyone. And we are not meeting our targets under the National Disability Strategy either.   


The future of cars and land use planning

A woman with blonde hair sits reading a magazine resting on the steering wheel of the car she is (not) driving. The road and other cars are visible through the windscreen as the photo was taken from the back seat.Driverless vehicles could bring out the best – or worst – in our cities by transforming land use according to an article in Fifth Estate.  Technology has entered just about every aspect of our lives. Urban design and planning included. Things to think about are: freeing up road space for other uses, turning parking lots into social uses, redesigning building and street interfaces, transforming fuel stations into something else, and converting domestic garage spaces in suburbia. But there could also be an increase in urban sprawl and changing property values and planning controls. This is disruption for planners. The article is based on research by an interdisciplinary group and has many links to further reading. The article includes a video about walkability and was originally published in The Conversation.  


Let’s go shopping!

Picture of a shopping mall with a plain grey floor and shops on each side. Thre is a woodend bench with armrests and backrest. In the distance you can see more shops.Shopping for groceries is a chore for most people. But for people with reduced cognitive abilities shopping can be a major challenge. Researchers in Sweden carried out a study of 29 people with cognitive challenges to find out their coping strategies. They found very different approaches to coping, but in every case the coping strategy was underpinned by a “personal and strong wish to maintain individuality and independence”. In the discussion section there are some good points for retailers to consider including: clear paths that connect the entrance and exits with check out counters, clear signage, places to sit and rest (and reduce anxiety) and creating a sense of feeling safe in the environment. The title of the paper is, Shopping with Acquired Brain Injuries, Coping Strategies and Maslowian Principles, by Andersson, Skehan, Ryden and Lagerkrans, from the Swedish Agency for Participation. As with most personal case study research this is an easy read.  

Editor’s note: The recommendations are also good for people without reduced cognition. For example, reducing “visual noise” and clutter helps everyone to find what they are looking for, and a clear path of travel is good for people using mobility devices. Again, thoughtful design is universal design.


Dementia and urban design

An older man and woman sit on a wooden slatted park bench. The man is holding a blue umbrella to shade from the sun. There is another empty bench next to them. They are sitting alongside the path and there are trees behind them.The incidence of dementia is predicted to increase as the global population ages. Many people with dementia are able to live independently for several years before they need constant care and support. Studies are showing that the design of the built environment is influential in supporting people with dementia to maintain their sense of well-being and independence. In Improving the lives of people with dementia through urban design, Barbara Pani presents four brief case studies: a gated community, a dementia-friendly city, intergenerational housing, and health services at a neighbourhood level in a social housing estate. The article provides technical information and in the conclusion raises several points. Retrofitting existing buildings could be better than massive redevelopment; consideration of people with dementia could also be good for the wellbeing of people with mental health issues, and the importance of developing social spaces at the neighbourhood level.