Bradford researchers have developed a toolkit for measuring tranquillity that could enable neglected or overlooked urban parks to flourish and become a haven for stressed city workers.
Greg Watts, Professor of Transportation Noise in the Centre for Sustainable Environments at the School of Engineering, Design and Technology at the University of Bradford says the method will help urban planners design better parks, and improve existing amenity areas.
"We know that tranquil environments are important for wellbeing," says Professor Watts. "When people are surrounded by images of nature and hear natural sounds rather than mechanical noises they find it easier to recover from stress. Our research assessed what particular factors would improve tranquillity in green open spaces, and what factors would degrade it, so that an overall tranquillity rating can be calculated."
Professor Watts has devised a series of methods to assess noise levels and the visual scene to give each amenity an accurate and consistent 'tranquillity rating'. Factors that were taken into consideration included the amount of human-made noise, for example traffic or aircraft noise, natural features such as water, trees and plants, and human-made features such as historical or traditional buildings.
The method was put to the test in three parks in Bradford. Using photographs, 'noise maps' published by DEFRA and spot readings of noise levels, researchers were able to rate each amenity, and also make a series of recommendations for improvements.
"Local councils are in difficult financial straits at the moment, but they need to consider the needs of their citizens and continue to adequately maintain and improve existing parks and where necessary create new green open spaces," says Professor Watts. "Investing in urban parks can have a big impact on the health and stress levels of the people who use them. Research we have carried out previously shows that even leaving litter in a park can significantly reduce the tranquillity of the environment. Ensuring that these urban green spaces are maintained to the right standard is an important investment for the long-term well-being of citizens."
Professor Watts' research demonstrates that even in densely populated areas planners can calculate best value approaches to improving urban amenities that will achieve acceptable levels of tranquillity.
"If the park has a low tranquillity rating, there are a number of options to consider and the formula we have developed would enable planners to select the best value approach in each case," says Professor Watts.
"For example, we could calculate what effect reducing traffic noise would have on a park's tranquillity rating. We would then be able to predict which improvement measures, would be most effective in terms of cost and impact. A range of measures could be considered, including erecting screens or barriers to redirecting traffic or even resurfacing roads with a low noise surface. On the other hand it might prove more cost-effective to improve the visual scene by the introduction of more shrubs and trees and by the screening of surrounding buildings if of little historical value or installing an appropriate water feature."
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