Glen Etive in the Scottish Highlands received a high tranquility score

A scientific tool to measure the tranquility of urban environments and public spaces could lead to the creation of better green space in developments, according to its creators.

Lead researcher Professor Greg Watts from the UK’s University of Bradford said the Tranquillity Rating Prediction Tool (TRAPT) tool could help planners, architects and environmentalists understand the impact of greening measures like trees, hedges or additional vegetation on urban spaces.

It is hoped in time the tool could mean green space in property developments is optimised before a spade hits the ground, or that run-down suburbs and town centres could be rejuvenated effectively.

Studies have illustrated a clear link between tranquil environments and stress reduction, wellbeing and pain relief. Introducing vegetation into an environment to soften it is one way to improve tranquillity, but until now architects and planners have had to make assumptions regarding its impact, the researchers said.

“Currently, architects design urban environments to provide open spaces where people can relax,” Professor Watts said.

“While it’s guided by certain principles, it’s not scientific. TRAPT provides a robust and tested measure of how relaxing an environment currently is, or could be once built.”

The TRAPT system uses three measures of an urban environment including soundscape, landscape and moderating factors – the amount of natural features like trees, shrubs, flowers or water in the eye-line for example. When processed, the environment is given a score between 0 and 10. As an example, an outstanding tranquil environment was Glen Etive in the Scottish Highlands that elicited a high average score of 9.1, though an urban park can exceed 7.

“TRAPT provides the user with a simple measure for understanding how tranquil and relaxing it can be. By varying different factors – the amount of greenery, or introducing noise attenuating barriers or quieter road surfaces for instance – planners can understand the impact of their decisions,” Professor Watts said.

Based at the Bradford Centre for Sustainable Environments, Professor Watts and his team have spent over 10 years testing and validating the system in both laboratory and field studies.

“We’re confident that our testing has helped us to create a tool that provides a realistic and reliable measure of relaxation.”

Through the practical application of TRAPT, Professor Watts hopes that his research could help architects, planners, civic leaders and environmentalists gain a greater understanding of their decisions’ impacts.

“TRAPT could be used to help architects design rewarding and relaxing urban environments. Planners can use it to assess how tranquil new developments would be, making changes to the plans if required.”

The tool could also be useful to environmentalists in arguing against the removal of trees, shrubs or urban green spaces. Residents could argue for more trees, shrubs and flowers to improve the appearance of jaded town centres and suburban areas.

“These measures should also help to counter threats such as overdevelopment, tree removal or traffic densification that might threaten existing benefits.”

The research is published in Urban Forestry and Urban Greening.