“Our research study shows that people enjoy living in mixed compact city neighbourhoods but they should be close to large green spaces, to nature experiences,” says Karl Samuelsson, environmental researcher at the University of Gävle.
Environmental researchers in Gävle have developed a recipe for sustainable urban environments where the starting point has been density, as it is resource-efficient and enables sustainable transportation. Dense blocks with a mix of housing and workplaces have distinct advantages, economically, ecologically and socially.
However, we know that we need large green spaces within cities, as contact with nature is important for people’s physical and mental health; we need these green oases for our wellbeing.
“There is a clear conflict here,” Karl Samuelsson says. “For this reason, we have tried to establish if both these environmental qualities can be combined.”
On a map on a webpage, people were asked to mark places where they had had positive or negative experiences, and then describe these in a survey.
The characters of these places were analysed to establish if the features housing, workplaces, water, green spaces, major roads or playgrounds were nearby.
“We have been able to create an experience map, based on almost 2000 experiences, covering almost the whole of the municipality of Stockholm. It is the first time anything like this has been done, and now we have a large material to base our understanding on how these different locations are experienced,” Karl Samuelsson says.
Karl tells us that the clearest result is the fact that people experience areas dominated by workplaces as negative places. The researchers believe that this depends on the fact that people see them as hectic and stressful during daytime and as empty, and perhaps slightly unsafe, during night-time.
“Apparently, these areas combine the worst aspects of two worlds, and our advice to urban planners is to combine workplaces and housing within the same area to avoid such problems.”
In addition, there is clear connection between green spaces and positive experiences.
“Such a connection has been established by other studies as well, but we have found that for larger green spaces with larger trees, this link is even stronger.
These larger green spaces are also important from a socio-economic perspective, as they protect us from extreme weather like flooding, Karl informs us.
“Our challenge is to figure out how we can create such large continuous green spaces with compact neighbourhoods nearby and manage to give people easy access to these green spaces.”
In Stockholm “Norra Djurgårdsstaden” is just being built, and it will become exactly this type of mixed city neighbourhood, close to large green spaces.
“In a few decades, when its distinctive characteristics have become clearly visible, it will probably be a great success.”
In contrast, in inner-city Stockholm one is adding on more floors on top of the buildings and filling them with workplaces. Unfortunately, people already perceive the inner-city area as a negative space.
“Here, we increase the concentration of workplaces and, consequently, we make it more stressful in the day and more unsafe in the night. These are current examples of a good strategy and a bad one,” Karl Samuelsson says.
For more information, please contact:
Karl Samuelsson, PhD student in environmental engineering, University of Gävle
Phone: 073-759 08 50
Text: Douglas Öhrbom