Urban design can make as positive a contribution to people’s levels of happiness as beautiful natural landscapes, according to an academic study.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK say it is “scenery” rather than “greenery” which is important in creating an environment conducive to wellbeing.
“The beauty of our everyday environment might have more practical importance than was previously believed” said Chanuki Seresinhe, of Warwick Business School
To find out what kind of landscapes made people feel healthier, academics asked people to rate the “scenic-ness” of more than 212,000 pictures of Britain.
They then compared those findings to how residents in those areas felt about their health, as reported in the 2011 Census. The researchers found that areas rated as most scenic and uplifting were often not green areas.
The team said findings imply that it is the overall cohesion of architecture and design which boosts people’s health and happiness, not just the number of parks and trees.
“This is a fascinating finding,” said Seresinhe, a PhD student in the university’s data science laboratory.
“Just because a place is green does not compel us to feel better on its own. It seems to be that the beauty of the environment, as measured by scenic-ness, is of crucial importance.
“Our results suggest that the beauty of our everyday environment might have more practical importance than was previously believed.
“In order to ensure the wellbeing of local inhabitants, urban planners and policymakers might find it valuable to consider the aesthetics of the environment when embarking upon large projects to build new parks, housing developments or highways. Our findings imply that simply introducing greenery, without considering the beauty of the resulting environment, might not be enough.”
Research in Japan has found that older people lived for longer when their homes were within walking distance of a park or other green space
But the British team, found that the photographs rated the most scenic did not contain the highest proportion of the colour green. Instead, they also contained large proportions of grey, brown and blue.
“We know that some of the areas rated as very scenic, such as the Lake District, are also very green,” said Dr Suzy Moat, the university’s Associate Professor of Behavioural Science.
“For this reason, we wanted to make sure that the relationship we were seeing between scenic-ness and health wasn’t simply reflecting beneficial effects of green spaces.”
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.