Boost human health and happiness through public space design
This report presents the outcome of a pilot experiment challenging the attractiveness and liveability of modern public spaces conducted by Happier by Design in the West Palm Beach waterfront. Happier by Design is a collaborative interdisciplinary team comprised of Happy City, the University of Virginia, Street Plans Collaborative and UK-based Space Syntax.
The main research question that intrigued the research team who conducted this experiment was whether interventions that provoke restorative fascination can improve wellbeing on the West Palm Beach waterfront. It is known that tactical (or low-cost, temporary, and strategically-placed) urban design interventions can be used to draw more people and engage them at key city spaces. However, few studies have quantified health and other beneifts of short-term tactical interventions designed to intensify restorative fascination. This is an uncharted territory that this research attempts to explore.
It’s time to redefine success in urban design, putting human health and happiness at the fore.
As far as the experiment is concerned, the team tried to pursue quite an innovative approach. First, they chose a site that exemplifies many of the public space challenges seen in contemporary cities.Then they created and installed a tactical intervention for that site designed to both attract pedestrians and boost feelings of wellbeing, specifically by provoking feelings of restorative fascination. Finally, they tested the effects of that intervention on people’s physical state, their emotional state, and their behavior.
The overall results of this experiment are remarkable. More spceficially, by adding elements of restorative fascination and comfort to a discrete section of the waterfront, the way people behaved and their emotions were influenced, as compared to the control tour, with no intervention. The intervention induced more people to stop and linger on the waterfront. It had a clear effect on the participants: Not only did they report liking the waterfront more when the intervention was in place, but the change also improved their mood. They reported feeling less stress, they felt a greater sense of belonging, and perhaps most compelling to the research team, they felt more trust for strangers, which is a strong correlate of happier and healthier cities.
- Introduction: designing cities for wellbeing
- Research Question
- Pilot Project
- Results and Analysis
- Opportunities for future research
- Download the report here.