Cities can now measure tranquility, on a scale of 1-10

Relaxing in Liberty Park in Lower Manhattan, New York City, in June 2016. Image: Getty.

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.


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.

The High Line park in Manhattan, New York, is a good example of a tranquil space that is part of a wider urban environment. Image: InSapphoWeTrust/creative commons.

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.

Creating tranquil spaces

To boost the tranquillity of an area, the first step is to reduce man-made noise. Obviously on a city scale this could be done by things like rerouting traffic, lorry bans and low-noise road surfacing, as well as noise barriers. But in terms of your own surroundings, anything you can do to reduce unnatural noise the better. Higher and longer fences and walls next to the road can help here. As can creating a small quiet area with perhaps a natural-sounding water feature close by.

Increasing the percentage of natural features through “greening” can also help to boost the tranquillity of an area. Introducing more trees, shrubs, or trellising to “hide” building facades, makes people feel less stressed and calmer in their surroundings – so go wild with the greenery.

Back Bay in Boston, US, is a great example of the benefits of ‘greening’ residential areas. Image: author provided.

Having “natural” sounds can also help to make a place feel more tranquil. This could be done by installing a water feature or pond. This which will not only help in terms of relaxation but it will also encourage water fowl and birds.

What all this shows is that creating a refuge from the din of city life doesn’t have to be a huge task. And it is often neglected green spaces that can be re-imagined as havens of tranquillity.

The ConversationSo next time you’re feeling stressed out, try and find a tranquil space, or even better make one of your own – that way your can get your little bit of calm anytime you want.

Greg Watts is professor of environmental acoustics at the University of Bradford.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

It’s not all cool bridges and very real concerns: In defence of Teesside

Just one of the many interesting bridges you’ll find in Teesside. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

The latest entry in our ‘In Defence Of’ series...

I have to start this with a disclaimer: I’m not writing this from anywhere in Teesside. I’m writing this from Germany, where I live and work. Some of you may remember being told by Norman Tebbit, that instead of complaining that we can’t find jobs, we should get on our bikes (or, more recently, by IDS to get on a bus), and I did. I’m paid well here, to do a job that doesn’t really exist in Teesside. And yet, every time I go home to visit my family, I almost wish I’d stayed.

This isn’t going to be a very straightforward take – I’m hoping to pay my respects to Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as well as my native Billingham – but Teesside isn’t a very straightforward place. What county is it in? Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Durham or North Yorkshire depending on how old you are and where you’re standing. I always had great fun ordering online and trying to guess which of the unfamiliar options on the dropdown menu would get my parcel to me.

But regardless of where you draw the lines, Teesside is still there.

Our accent is similarly hard to pin down: Geordie, Mackem, Yorkshire, even Scouse, depending on who’s imitating us. I’ve been pegged as Irish, American and South African by determined people in the past. Our slang is stolen from Scotland, Northumberland, Newcastle and Yorkshire, and, not satisfied, some words are purely our own. Hoy, shan, howay, dinner nanny. We have as many words for classless people as the Romans did for murder.

But regardless of how it sounds to you, Teesside still talks.


On a map of the UK, Teesside sits as an isolated blob of civilisation between the Dales and the sea. Half-urban, half-rural, half-seaside, half-inland, half industrial estate and half nature reserve. A Labour heartland with a Tory mayor. Places that sprang up fully formed in the ICI rush of the 1950s, but that still have Viking place names.

We’ve been portrayed in fiction by Richard Milward, in song by Maximo Park, in statistics by Lady Florence Bell and in cinema by Sir Ridley Scott (our chemical works and power plants inspired the look of Blade Runner). More recently, we’re being portrayed in documentary in The Mighty Redcar, and in the media as an area of left-behind, white working class racists who all voted Leave. But while most of the area is whiter than the average, Middlesbrough mirrors the UK average for racial diversity and has been assigned to resettle more refugees than any other town in the UK – and more than its cut-back council can look after.

And when you look at the numbers, the proportion of the population of Teesside who voted to leave the EU is much less than many other areas. (And yes, of course I voted Remain from my now slightly more precarious home in Frankfurt, joining 100,000 other Teesside Remainers.)

We’re pitied for the loss of the Teesside steelworks and derided for blaming the EU for it (when of course it was our own government’s sabotaging of EU attempts to block Chinese steel dumping that drove that knife in). Even the people who profess to be on our side take our angry, uneducated racism as fact, baking it into the premises of their arguments, which consist of addressing our “racist but real concerns”, and how to reach us.

But whether you understand us or not, whether you miss the point or not, we’ll continue to exist, long after we’ve been forgotten again.

Billingham town centre. One of the first pedestrianised town centres in the UK. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

Still, while we’re in the spotlight, why not see what we have to offer? Come to see our rather wonderful collection of interesting bridges. See where the first public steam train ran, from Stockton to Darlington. Visit Mima, the modern art gallery in Middlesbrough and the 1960s utopia of Billingham’s pedestrianised town centre. Feel slightly uncomfortable around all the things that are named for Captain Cook (though the replica of the Endeavour at Stockton riverside is impressive regardless on your thoughts on its captain – and it’s the best you’ll see until they work out whether they’ve found the real one yet). Wander Middlesbrough’s thriving student/hipster district on Linthorpe RoadD – despite being a punchline during my youth, Teesside University has become a respected institution. Visit Billingham’s Folklore Festival in August, where as schoolchildren we’d watch troupes of folk dancers from across the world open-mouthed, and get their autographs afterwards as though they were celebrities.

Fried chicken, white sauce and cheese make the Teesside parmo. Perfect. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

Try a parmo. Try the Billingham Catholic Club’s real ale, and stay for the bingo, which is called by a man with the most acrobatic mental arithmetic skills I’ve ever seen. Try a lemon top ice cream from Pacitto’s in Redcar and wonder why no one else has ever done this before. Lemon sorbet and vanilla ice cream! Together at last!

While you’re at the beach, take a ride on the Saltburn Cliff Lift, the oldest operating water-balance cliff lift in the UK. Pretend Saltburn is sort of in Teesside while you’re enjoying the view. Look out on beaches black with sea coal, washed up from undersea seams and nearby coal mines. Visit the golf course by Seaton Carew to catch a glimpse of a curlew or two, and watch the young seagulls pick up golf balls to crack them open by dropping them from a great height. Visit Seal Sands, whose owners can be observed lazing on the estuary banks whenever the tide is out. Or visit Saltholme, the RSPB nature reserve, where you can see avocets, Britain’s weirdest-looking and most beloved seabird.

Nature coexists with industry on Teesside. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

Go white water rafting, bell boating or paddleboarding at the Tees Barrage, where there are so many seals that they’ve had to put up guards to keep them out of the way. The Tees used to be too polluted even to support salmon and trout, and now we have too many of one of Britain’s largest native mammals. The return of the seals to the Tees was the first documented case of seals returning to an industrial area. You’d be surprised at how well nature can thrive in the shadow of industry, colonising the quiet fields and marshy ponds on private land that are never disturbed, haunted by sika deer and shelducks, redshanks, knots, stonechats.

Teesside has plenty to offer. What it doesn’t have is the jobs to keep its younger generations from having to get on their bikes and leave. We aren’t aliens, or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s army of goblin henchbrexiteers. We’re just like you, but with more seals and fewer employment opportunities.