by Martin Knöll, Junior Professor at Technische Universität Darmstadt Department of Architecture in Germany, and head of the Urban Health Games Research Group, and Jenny Roe, Professor of Design and Health and the Director of the Center of Design and Health at the School of Architecture, University of Virginia in the US.
“Hey, what’s going on here?”
A pop-up Pokemon Go event on a street corner in Edinburgh was causing a real buzz last week among young people on a hot summer day, stopping to chat and take in a glass of ice-cold lemonade. The success of Pokemon Go is gigantic and it is good news for health and urban design. Specifically, if we - users, developers and urban designers /researchers - begin to collaborate on how we can use AR (augmented reality) gaming to design our cities for active engagement amongst our sedentary populations, particularly young people.
Young people playing at a Pokemon Go Gym in Darmstadt’s central park Herrngarten.
Source: Martin Knoll.
It seems obvious that there is an immediate effect of gaming on many players’ daily activity, social interactions and mental wellbeing. Many of the tweets at #PokemonGo testify how this is happening in synergy.
More research will be needed to show how intense the physical activity really is, how it is determined by players’ age, gender, health disposition and usual activity patterns, and the strength of the social and mental wellbeing benefits. Also, it will be interesting to see how the hype and the intense usage will translate to change long term health behaviours and motivations.
But the Pokemon hype is really good news as it helps to change peoples’ attitude towards the quality of physical places and (potentially) offers potential to use digital technology to plan, design and maintain our cities for health and wellbeing outcomes.
People spend more time outside gaming, not only watching on the smartphone screen, but also interacting with their surroundings off-screen. We have found that players interact in various ways with their smartphones and physical surroundings while playing an AR game:
Participants of the AR game Stadtflucht while following a breathing exercise on the River Main harbour (a,b,c) running a slalom (d,e,f) and finding objects to capture. (Source: Knöll, 2016).
After playing the game prototype for 30 min, users reported they were more aware of their environments, and had discovered new features in the environment, prompting excitement and curiosity (Knöll 2016 & Halblaub Miranda and Knöll 2016). Curiosity is an integral component of mental wellbeing linked with motivation and meaning in life. Learning to see places differently, being curious as we navigate our everyday environments, ‘taking notice’ can all help catalyse mental wellbeing .
In order to make the most out of this hype for health, though, how best can developers, users and researchers collaborate to analyse how people use and interact with their physical environment in game? Where do they enjoy playing? Where are the challenges? What places are people hesitant to visit and pick up a Pokemon? Where do people fear? What do the they think of the places? The game developer, Niantic’s first game Ingress motivated players to exercise in their every day life by combining the history and accessibility of urban environments with a virtual story. It was the first commercial success of games, in what may be called an “urban exergame”(Knöll, Dutz, et al. 2014). It was already known to generate much data on where people move and spent time. It was hypothesised that this information was also used to optimize the functionality of Google maps (Purdy 2014)
We have used tools such as apps and location based games to gain data on how users perceive their places and how they engage with the urban environment. These prototypes were experimental, but still showed potential to gain more spatially detailed, age specific data from users that would usually participate in co-design events (Knöll 2016 & Halblaub Miranda and Knöll 2016). Can you imagine what we could do, if we could develop these tools together and analyse the data that is being collected by millions of users in cities world wide?
Pokemon Go has made a huge step from Ingress in this respect. Players seem to spend more time with a Pokemon while being in a real physical space. It has also been reported that a lot of the social interaction around Pokemon Go takes place informally outside of the game and in physical sites (Webber und Brewster 2016).
Such a process, of course, would have to include users in a participatory design process. Also, it would have to balance game experience with the real world planning content. But, there is first approaches that show how this may work. What is missing is new collaboration between research and IT companies. This success story of Pokemon Go is to bring people out and about, as witnessed on our street corners this summer. In order to make it more sustainable – for both game engagement and positive health and wellbeing outcomes, there needs to be a discussion on how users may allow research to access data to identify and visualize how the physical environment can be improved to boost walkability, stress recovery, social interaction and playing smartphone games in public spaces.
Whilst the media is flagging cautionary tales about Pokemon Go, does the game really pose any more risk than texting whilst walking? Is allowing our young people to adventure forth into adventurous space really posing a threat to their wellbeing? Surely – whilst urging sensible precautions – we need to allow our young people the right to roam as ‘free rangers’ in our cities?
Key references for further reading
Halblaub Miranda, Marianne, und Martin Knöll. „Stadtflucht - Learning about healthy places with a location-based game.“ Navigationen - Zeitschrift für Medien und Kulturwissenschaften, 2016. http://dokumentix.ub.uni-siegen.de/opus/volltexte/2016/1004/pdf/Navigationen_Playin_the_city.pdf
Knöll, Martin. Bewertung von Aufenthaltsqualität durch Location-Based-Games - Altersspezifische Anforderungen in der Studie "Stadtflucht" in Frankfurt am Main.“ Herausgeber: Gesine Marquardt. MATI Mensch - Architektur - Technik - Interaktion für demografische Nachhaltigkeit. Dresden: Fraunhofer IRB, 2016. 266-77. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284725664_Bewertung_von_Aufenthaltsqualitat_durch_Location-Based-Games_-_Altersspezifische_Anforderungen_in_der_Studie_Stadtflucht_in_Frankfurt_am_Main
Knöll, Martin, Tim Dutz, Sandro Hardy, und Stefan Göbel. „Urban Exergames – How Architects and Serious Gaming Researchers Collaborate on the Design of Digital Games that make you move.“ In Virtual and Augmented Reality in Healthcare 1, Herausgeber: Minhua Ma, Lakhmi Jain, Anthony Withehead und Paul Anderson, 191-207. London: Springer, 2014. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-642-54816-1_11
Webber, Jordan Erica, und Kate Brewster. The Guardian. 18. July 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/18/pokemon-go-uk-developers-augmented-reality (Zugriff am 25. July 2016).
About the Authors
By Eva Adler, Geospatial Information Specialist at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Washington DC.
Trees present an excellent opportunity for planners to help enhance urban mental health and wellbeing. But choosing the wrong trees can be more detrimental to urban communities than having none at all. To make the most of urban green spaces, both tree characteristics and spatial thinking need be considered early on in the planning process. In this article, we will explore common challenges in choosing trees in urban design and how five tools can better support planning and build more vibrant, healthy urban communities.
The ‘wrong trees’ can do more harm than good
These tools are important because despite the best of intentions, implementation problems often occur at the neighborhood scale when the ‘wrong trees’, or trees unsuitable for a place’s specific urban variables, are brought into the built environment. For example, city planners plant beautiful Ginko bilboa trees along local roads to contribute to the city’s beautification project. The intention is to increase shade, safety, health and happiness across the local community - all laudable aims. However, over time the trees grow too large for the city’s infrastructure and budget. The branches begin to destroy electrical lines, crack underground water pipes, fall onto cars during winter storms, and litter pounds of smelly fruit every spring. The city becomes frustrated and cut down the trees... only to replace them with smaller, younger Ginko trees. So where did they go wrong?
How to choose the ‘right tree’ for mental health, wellbeing… and for tax dollars
In the US, the Arbor Day Foundation advocates The Right Tree in the Right Place framework, emphasizing that proper planning is vital to achieve the outcome of healthy urban green spaces. They describe trees that will “cool your home in summer and tame the winter winds… grow well in the soil and moisture of your neighborhood… be properly placed to avoid collisions with powerlines and buildings.” Furthermore, thousands of city tax dollars can be prevented in sidewalk and electrical repairs if planners match trees to the urban locations in which they will be planted.
Tree characteristics to consider for sustainable urban design:
Organizations like Casey Trees strive to prevent planning issues associated with tree planting and restore the urban forest of the Washington DC through education and outreach, policy advocacy, and private and public partnerships. Source: Casey Trees website
Tool 1: Tree Finder Wizard (for the US)
But how to identify the right tree for a particular location? For instance, a local coffee shop in New York City wants to plant a few trees above the front patio to give customers shade. But there are electrical lines 50 feet above ground, there’s limited planting space for roots, partial shade, and the northeast winters are harsh. So what should they do?
One helpful tool they can use is the Tree Finder Wizard tool, developed by the American Arbor Day Foundation. This tool identifies the right tree species for any community in the US based on the variables of zip-code, soil, height, growth rate, spread, and aesthetics desired (fruit, evergreen, deciduous, etc.) | website
Source: Arbor Day Foundation, website
Tool 2: National Tree Benefit Calculator (for the US)
The Right Tree Right Place framework is an important first step towards using trees to help achieve healthier communities and more impactful outcomes. However, getting the information and facts to the right people is another challenge. Evidence of economic improvement can form a persuasive argument that helps turn ideas into action. Whether it’s city officials, policy makers, neighborhood HOAs, or school principals who need to be persuaded, the free National Tree Benefit Calculator is an effective tool to communicate specific economic benefits of urban trees and diversity of tree populations. While it does not yet consider health benefits, it calculates the monetary benefit of trees based on tree species, age, and size based on potential improvements in stormwater, property value, energy usage, and air quality | website
Source: Arbor Day Foundation, website
Tool 3: Google’s SketchUp
However, city planning doesn’t only mean city effort. Local non-profits, businesses, and homeowners can too create designs for public spaces, backyards, and community gardens using the right tree right place framework and free 3D spatial design tools.
SketchUp is Google's free design software. It incorporates a few landscape templates to help get a project started. In SketchUp, one can upload a photo and create objects from scratch easily on a laptop to help plan tree design within a given landscape. | website
Tool 4: Garden Visualizer
The Marshalls Garden Visualizer lets a beginner user design a garden or small public space with stunning 3D quality. Photos of community structures and buildings can also be uploaded and displayed in the backdrop | website
Tool 5: Mappler K2
Predicting future trends and integrating community input early on into the design process are challenges that city and regional planners encounter regularly. Where do community members want more trees? In what areas do we need more trees to improve safety, mental health, and healing? How can a city streamline input and provide effective solutions? Mappler is a free crowdsource mapping tool and a mobile data collector app to easily conduct assessments and identify community needs across a city scale. It is a tried and true tool to collect diverse inputs on a large scale to help identify community issues, needs, and successes. | website | community asset mapping
Asset Mapping using Mappler, website |
A prime example of the use of Mappler was in New Jersey where local residents entered the location of road potholes. Local officials then used this input to prioritize areas of operation and improve road conditions. When each road was fixed, they were able to input a comment to notify the public that the issue they identified had been fixed.
Source: Mappler Mobile, website
This same process can be used for identifying other community needs, for instance the tracking and maintaining of urban forests as demonstrated by Casey Trees in Washington DC (online map).
These tools can contribute to smarter urban planning that will achieve the wide range of positive impacts - and help avoid the unintended pitfalls - of planting trees to improve community life.
Do you have a great tool to suggest? Please add a link and description in the comments section.
About the Author
by Nélida Quintero, a psychologist, licensed architect, and American Psychological Association NGO Representative at the United Nations continues her Habitat III policy analysis series.
What is the 'New Urban Agenda'?
In October, countries all over the world will be adopting a 'new urban agenda' at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador. The New Urban Agenda “will drive the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially Goal 11, of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”(Preamble,p.1). After extensive input from a wide range of consultations, issue papers and policy papers, a New Urban Agenda (Zero Draft) has recently been released. This is the first draft of a global framework of actions for housing and sustainable urban development that will continue to be commented on, discussed and revised until the Habitat III meeting where a final version will be agreed upon.
What's in the UN's Zero Draft?
The Zero Draft document consists of a declaration on Cities for All, and an implementation plan for the New Urban Agenda: transformative commitments for sustainable urban development; effective implementation; and follow-up and review. The Zero Draft delineates a vision of sustainable urbanization that is people-centered and promotes equality and inclusion for all, including women, children and youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations, such as refugees, migrants and displaced persons. The draft document stresses the need for access to adequate housing, quality public space, public goods and services, livelihoods and work. “We envisage cities and human settlements…putting people in the center, and offer quality of life beyond the mere provision of infrastructure and services.” (5(a), p.2) It also calls for the design of cities resilient to natural and man-mad hazards, and underlines the importance of participatory processes in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and budgeting of urban policies and plans.
Where is mental health in the New Urban Agenda and the Zero Draft?
So where does mental health fit into the 175 paragraphs of the document? Cities that commit to working towards implementing the New Urban Agenda vision will, in developing inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable urban environments, also promote and sustain the physical and mental health of their inhabitants. Indeed, well-being and health are mentioned throughout the document, underlining the interaction between the urban environment and health: “Cities are human creations, places in which we aspire to enable inhabitants to lead peaceful, healthy, prosperous, and free lives with full respect of human rights for all”(p.1). The city proposed by this draft is sensitive to such elements of urban life that may impact well-being, addressing discrimination, equitable access to resources, adequate housing, public spaces and opportunities for work.
What does the Zero Draft say about urban planning and design for better mental health?
The important role of urban planning and design in influencing behavior and determinants of mental health is specifically stressed in the Zero Draft: “spatial organization, patterns and design of urban space together with development policies can promote or hinder social cohesion, equity, and inclusion, as well as the reduction of poverty and hunger.” (A22, p.5) Public space in particular is noted for its potential role in influencing human behavior and well-being by "enhancing social interactions and political participation, promoting socio-cultural expressions, embracing diversity, and fostering safety and social cohesion” (5e, p.2) Green public spaces are underlined for their “positive impacts on health and well-being”(71, p.10) as well as for their provision of ecosystem services. The draft also considers elements of city design that can impact people's emotional and social lives by enhancing or impeding access to goods, services and opportunities: for instance, whether a person can reach work, health care centers, or healthy food; enjoy a walk in the park; and interact with others in a safe neighborhood.
Participatory processes are mentioned multiple times for their role in generating a sense of belonging and ownership of the city, which help promote civic engagement and a sense of empowerment. The draft is clear that city dwellers should therefore have the opportunity to participate “in the formulation, implementation, monitoring, and budgeting of urban policies and plans, strengthening effectiveness, transparency, and accountability." (5g, p.2)
As urban populations grow, the need to research, design and maintain cities that support the physical, social and emotional needs of its inhabitants will continue to be an important task. The Zero Draft of the New Urban Agenda underlines relevant issues needed to address in this endeavor and calls for global commitments to make urban life better for all.
The Zero Draft and most updated revisions can be found at: https://www.habitat3.org/zerodraft where you can provide feedback to them until 7th July.
About the Author
Sanity and Urbanity: