Opening-up as we dig deeper

City infrastructures are amongst a wide smorgasboard of population-level circumstances that may be altered to increase the prevalence of ‘high wellbeing’,
or flourishing.

These conditions range from household income and employment, to education and healthcare. Historically, we have overestimated the impact of factors such as income and GDP and recent findings suggest that we underestimate the role of the physical environment; placing inadequate emphasis on natural features in particular (Cooper, 2014).

Urban wellbeing is a fledgling science in which, amongst others, we have begun to test a series of hypotheses within field-based public space research in the United Kingdom (Anderson et al. This comprised of mixed-methods research, including direct behaviour observation, interviews and surveys. We have focussed on the Five Ways to Wellbeing (Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give), rooted in an expanding body of literature showing links with sustained positive mental health. In terms of Subjective Wellbeing (SWB), our research adopted textured, or multi-faceted definitions of individual and social wellbeing (examples below).

The following photo essay draws upon the lenses of the Five-Ways, as well as a nuanced characterisation of SWB. The images are combined with anonymised quotes from previous research participants. Each photo aims is to consider possible links between varying types of outdoor public space and specific wellbeing activities and experiences, at different time of the day, year and stages of the lifecourse. The pictures were collated as part of an amateur enthusiasm for photography and the quotes do not represent the opinions of the subjects of the images.

City design may play an increasingly important role in transcending the absence of negative psychological experiences, such as anxiety and depression, and help us move toward flourishing – feeling good and functioning effectively. As we dig deeper and begin to include measures of SWB in built environment research, such as life satisfaction, we must also embrace the breadth of this emergent and rich science, asking questions of purpose, vitality, competence, belonging and beyond.

Example features of individual and social wellbeing

Individual flourishing

Neighbourhood flourishing

Positive emotion, competence, vitality, resillience, calmness, self-esteem, optimism, engagement, meaning, positive relations.

Belonging, safety, respect, trust, support, reciprosity, contribution, participation, connectedness, celebration, collective resilience and autonomy.

Huppert & So, 2013

Anderson & Baldwin, 2016