Professor Henrietta Moore’s reevaluation of the word ‘prosperity’ set the tone for the first day of our (un)urban course. In moving the emphasis from income and GDP towards a more happiness and well-being oriented understanding of prosperity, the Institute of Global Prosperity encouraged a reassessment of the influence of green spaces and urban development on ‘prosperity’. This, as well as Henrietta’s reminder of the importance of ‘civic infrastructure’ (by 2050 70% of the world will live in cities), will doubtless inform our approach to the challenge in week 2.
After meeting the other members of our group, we carried the IGP’s considerations with us as we surveyed Tavistock and Gordon Square, comparing the ways people interact with these spaces.
Tasked with answering the question of how green spaces affect our wellbeing, we considered whether the parks were passive or active spaces, and conducted interviews with people who frequent the parks. From these in interviews, we learnt about the importance of location, with both parks situated handily between destinations. We spoke to a man pausing on the way to British Museum, and a number of students in Gordon Square. We also considered the design and landscaping of the parks: trees around the perimeter of both block out sound, and the long path around the outside is mainly used by runners, whereas lawns in the middle are predominantly used for sitting.
We thought about the park as a recreational space, speaking to a man running a detective style party event, and as a commercial one, I conducted an interview with the owner of the long running kiosk in the park to learn about the ebb and flow of custom over the years that she has worked here, assuming that this reflects the busyness of the park in general. These interviews can be found at https://soundcloud.com/un_urban
The rain forced our group to consider the effect of weather on how Green Spaces are used: we noticed that people were just passing through the park on their way to somewhere else rather than enjoying the green space.
Ultimately, the link between parks and wellbeing was made clear, in Tavistock square all the monuments were celebrating the achievements of pacifists, and advocates of peace. Obviously, this drew our attention to the importance of parks as oases of peace in otherwise crowded, often stressful cosmopolitan areas. When John mistook the sound of buses driving by to be the sound of a waterfall, the pacifying effect of the park was made clear, and we all felt better following our excursion.