Author Archives: openspaceeditor

Looking back at our fourth international conference

Earlier this month, over 100 delegates joined us in Edinburgh to discuss research on Habitats for Happy and Healthy Ageing at our fourth international conference.

We were delighted to welcome a wonderful mix of established and early career researchers from ten European countries, Australia, Canada, China, South Korea, Colombia, and the USA.

Over the course of 50 presentations, including three keynotes and four plenaries, we also heard from research collaborators and co-designers who work outside of academia, including in national and local government, industry and the not-for-profit sector, leading to rich dialogue about the use of research findings in policy and practice.

The final day took us out of the conference centre to a range of sites and resources around Edinburgh, with our delegates joining students and local older people in workshops on ‘designing for dementia’, ‘urban brainwear’ and ‘places, then and now’.

An enormously important contribution to thinking and approaches

The scene was set for our conference by Professor Dorothy Miell, Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, who gave a warm welcome to delegates at our opening reception.

Each full day was opened by a guest speaker, beginning with Sarah Davidson, Director General (Communities), Scottish Government, who spoke of older age as a “dynamic and productive phase of life for us all” and described the conference as “an enormously important contribution to the thinking and approaches we can employ in response to [this] ageing society”.

We heard from Dr Heidrun Mollenkopf, Vice President of AGE Platform Europe and Member of the AGE Universal Accessibility and Independent Living Expert Group, and from Dr Anne Jepson, a Senior Researcher at the Scottish Parliament Information Centre.

Our keynote speakers were Professor Billie Giles-Corti (Australia), Professor Sarah Wigglesworth (Sheffield) and Professor Gloria Gutman (Canada).

OPENspace (and friends) at #RGSIBG16

It’s time for the Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society, which is held in collaboration with the Institute of British Geographers.

The theme for 2016 is ‘nexus thinking’, a way of addressing the interdependencies, tensions and trade-offs between different environmental and social domains.

OPENspace is involved in five papers at this year’s conference, which you can follow on social media using the hashtag #RGSIBG16.

Here’s where you can find out more about two of our current research projects: Mobility, Mood and Place (which looks at older people’s mobility outdoors); and Woods In and Around Towns (which explores urban woodlands and quality of life in deprived communities).

RGS-IBG conference papers on Mobility, Mood and Place

Wednesday 31st August 2016

Measuring Wellbeing (11:10-12:50)      
Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 207 

Mapping brain imaging as a measure of emotional wellbeing in older people walking in different urban spaces.

Dr Steve Cinderby* of The University of York will be presenting this paper, which has been co-authored by Dr Sara Tilley of OPENspace and colleagues at the Universities of Edinburgh, York, Heriot-Watt and University College London.

Thursday 1st September 2016

Everyday geographies of ageing (1): (im)mobility, independence and ageing ‘well’ (09:00-10:40) 
Sherfield Building, Room 10  

Living in the moment or experiences of a lifetime? Considering environmental influences past, present and future on mobility in older age

Professor Jamie Pearce of the The Human Geography Research Group at the University of Edinburgh will be presenting this paper, which has been co-authored by Professor Catharine Ward Thompson, Professor Jenny Roe, Dr Katherine Brookfield and Dr Sara Tilley at OPENspace, and colleagues at the Universities of Edinburgh, York, Heriot-Watt and King’s College London.

RGS-IBG conference papers on Woods In and Around Towns

Thursday 1st September 2016

Greenspace Justice for Health and Wellbeing (16:50-18:30) 
Royal School of Mines, Room G.06

Exploring parents’ perceptions and visits to local urban woodlands in deprived communities

Dr Sara Tilley of OPENspace will be presenting this paper, which has been co-authored by Dr Eva Silveirinha de Oliveira and Professor Catharine Ward Thompson.

On Friday 2nd September, Sara will also be chairing the first session on ‘Time at the nexus: mobility and modal choice’which she co-convenes with Dr Julie Clark of the University of Glasgow, and presenting her PhD research in the second session (again co-convened with Julie) in a paper entitled Understanding the Multi-Level Forces Affecting Mobility Trends.

* Steve will also be talking about MMP at the annual ‘research into policy’ event co-hosted by the Transport Geography Research Group and UK Department for Transport (DfT). This pre-conference event takes place at the DFT on Tuesday 30th August 2016. Steve’s presentation is entitled Interactions between urban infrastructure design and use on older people’s mobility and well-being: evidence from three UK case studies.


> Browse other conference papers given by OPENspace team members

Immersing myself in data – an MSc student’s perspective on analysing walking interviews

Earlier this year, we were delighted to welcome Neil Abercrombie to the OPENspace team for a three-month placement on current project, Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP). Since then, Neil has completed an MSc in Social Research at the University of Edinburgh with a dissertation based on the work he did for us. Neil’s role was to analyse the qualitative data collected from 19 older adults during walking interviews in environments of their own choosing. In this guest blog, he reflects on his time on the project and what he’s learned from the experience…

Photo of a cyclist on a canal towpath

The towpath along the Union Canal in Edinburgh – one of the routes chosen by an older walker

I came to this placement with an interest in understanding different social behaviours and the reasons behind them. The prospect of researching the activities of older adults was intriguing, especially considering that encouraging older adults to walk is an increasingly important issue for maintaining good health within ageing populations.

I was excited to work with data being used in a genuine research project with potential implications for others in the future. I have performed my own personal research projects in the past, but felt that I could learn a lot more from working within a research group.

Immersing myself in data

My main role involved analysing the content produced during 19 qualitative walking interviews with older people. I read through interview transcripts for each walk, while also looking through the photos taken and listening to the audio recordings. My plan was to immerse myself in the data created. This proved particularly useful in a few instances, as I could hear or see things mentioned during interviews which I might not have understood quite so well just by reading the transcripts.

Working with several different forms of data addressing the same content was a new experience for me. While it was challenging at first, being faced with a large database, I slowly worked through it. As a result, I came upon a wealth of findings for my dissertation.

What I uncovered about older adults and walking

I found some key points about the way that older adults plan and enjoy their walks. When picking walks to go on, older adults appreciated familiarity in their findings, and selected areas where they are familiar with the history of the area, or the people living in it, or had personal connections through their memories. However, they also appreciated seeing variety in the same areas they walk though, such as changes in the weather, meeting different people on walks, or just to walk a slightly different route to reach the same places over time.

In terms of opinions, older adults enjoyed walking through more natural environments, as this helped them to relax and get the most enjoyment from the walk. Even when near an urban environment, being able to sense nature – for example, seeing plants, hearing birds or feeling comfortable ground under one’s feet – was enough to enjoy a walking route. The biggest disruptions were damage to the land, cars, and inconsiderate behaviours of other users, such as cyclists who rode too fast and too close to walkers that they stressed them with the possibility of being hit.

In analysing these results, findings can be placed on a hierarchy of what influences walking decisions more strongly. Issues such as accessibility and safety were clearly more important in findings than other factors such as comfort. This is because individuals would avoid specific areas if they could not get to them, or did not feel safe in them, but would still walk through some areas even if they complained about them being uncomfortable.

This is an updated version of Affonso Zuin’s (2005) hierarchy*, which has been given support through the results of the study. Findings such as these show that some issues of walking should be addressed over others, to encourage as many adults to take up walking as possible.

Working as part of a team

I am grateful for the experience gained from my time at OPENspace where, in addition to analysing data, I was given the opportunity to sit in on, and present my work at, an MMP Advisory Group Meeting. Additionally, I designed a poster on my work for a conference within the University’s School of Social and Political Science (SSPS).

On a more personal note, working fixed hours has given me a sense of structure. Having previously been used to the student lifestyle of working alone, and whenever I can, I have had to coordinate myself to complete work alongside others, such as by being prepared to show correspondents what I have done. I believe that these challenges, although not directly connected to the finished dissertation, have given me plenty of new experiences to draw upon in later life.

I would like to extend thanks to the members of OPENspace for welcoming me into their workspace for the last few months, giving me this opportunity to grow as an individual and help them with their research in return. Working around established researchers has been an insightful experience, and has pushed me to continually work harder than I have done before. This has challenged me in many unexpected ways, through data analysis, project writing, and planning, but I feel more prepared for the next stage of my life, whatever that may be.

* Zuin, Affonzo M. 2005. ‘To Walk or Not to Walk?: The Hierarchy of Walking Needs.’ Environment and Behavior. 37(6). pp. 808-836.

OPENspace would like to thank Neil for his excellent work during his time with us and congratulate him on winning first place for the poster he presented on his contribution to MMP at the SSPS conference. We wish him well for the future.

If you would like to find out more about Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP), please join us for our fourth international conference in October 2016 when we will be sharing emerging findings from the research alongside a range of keynotes and papers.

> Find out more about our fourth international conference on the MMP website

Town Centres: Co-Producing Strategic Priorities

Ahead of the World Towns Leadership Summit on 15th and 16th June 2016, guest blogger David Thompson of DPT Urban Design reflects on two recent projects exploring the co-production of place-based priorities with local communities in Scotland…

Photo of a design charette

Shifting the ground of environmental design evidence

This week, we’re at one of the most important conferences of the year for us, the 47th conference of the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA).

Logo for E D R A conference

Since its formation in the late 1960s, EDRA has used its annual congress to bring together design professionals, social scientists, students, educators, and facility managers.

For EDRA47, the Association has ‘come home’ to its birthplace of North Carolina, where its very first conference was convened by Henry Sanoff in June 1969, sponsored by NC State’s School of Design and UNC’s Department of City and Regional Planning.

Under the theme of Innovation : Shifting Ground, the aim of EDRA47 is to take a global look at the driving force of innovation in environmental design.

Catharine Ward Thompson’s plenary on environmental design evidence

Catharine (Director of OPENspace) is one of EDRA47’s six keynote and plenary speakers.

In her plenary, she is focusing on environmental design’s potential to help address current global health crises (such as cardio-vascular disease, rising levels of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and mental illness) and growing inequalities in health and wellbeing.

Catharine’s presentation explores what kinds of approaches are needed if environmental design, and landscape design in particular, is to be taken seriously by public health policy makers and planners as both health-enhancing (salutogenic) and reducing of health inequalities (equigenic).

It therefore considers the importance of working across and between disciplines, the use of innovative of methods (such as biomarkers and mobile neural imaging), the particular challenges involved in longitudinal studies to research design interventions, and the opportunities offered by natural experiments.

Insights from current and recent OPENspace research

In Catharine’s plenary presentation, she will draw on research from large-scale, collaborative projects such as Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP), GreenHealth, and Woods In and Around Towns (WIAT).

Over the course of the four-day conference, which runs from Wednesday 18th to Saturday 21st May 2016, these projects will also be presented in a series of papers by OPENspace researchers including Dr Sara Tilley, Dr Eva Silveirinha de Oliveira and Professor Jenny Roe.

The themes covered by the papers include Longitudinal Studies and Natural Experiments; Childhood Experience, Adult Perceptions and Visits to Woodlands; Timescales in Environmental Influences on Mobility in Older Age; Older People’s Brain Activities and Self-Reported Experiences of Short Urban Walks; and Experiences of Outdoor Environments by Women with Postnatal Depression.

Colleagues from collaborating research centres, such as the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, will also be presenting.

PhD candidate scoops EDRA Great Places Award

We’re delighted to end this post by announcing that PhD researcher, Matluba Khan, has won the EDRA Great Places Award in the Place Design category for her project, An Outdoor Learning Environment for Children.

Announced on the first day of the EDRA conference, the Award was given to Matluba for a “submission [which] truly exemplifies the concern for human factors in the design of the built environment, and a commitment to promoting the links between design research and practice”.

Matluba’s project is the co-design and build of outdoor learning and play space at a rural primary school in Bangladesh. Her PhD is co-supervised by Dr Simon Bell and Dr Eva Silveirinha De Oliveira at OPENspace, and Dr Sarah McGeown of Moray House School of Education.

In 2014, Matluba won Overall Best Paper Award at the 45th EDRA conference in New Orleans.

The annual Great Places Awards are a collaboration with the global organisation, Project for Public Spaces. Chaired by  John Shapiro of the Pratt Institute, this year’s jury included Kofi Boone (North Carolina State University), Jill Pable (Florida State University), Michael Mehaffy (Sustasis Foundation) and Katie Roden (Centerbrook Architects and Planners).

Two researchers with an award

Find out more about EDRA47 on the Environmental Design Research Association website

Thoughts on place on World Physical Activity Day

It’s World Physical Activity Day, and the theme this year is
“Active Child, Healthy Adult!”.

At OPENspace, we are particularly interested in the role that quality green space and natural environments have to play in enabling and encouraging people to be active, from childhood into oldest age.

Photo of a child cycling in a park

In the last week alone, Catharine Ward Thompson has touched on this theme at three events across Europe:

  • the International Green Care Forum on the Health Promoting Effect of Landscapes and Gardens (in Vienna);
  • a promotional lecture for the International Green Infrastructure Conference (in Ljubljana);
  • the Government Office for Science Foresight Future of Ageing event (in London).

We welcome the opportunity that World Physical Activity Day brings to shed further light on the associations between access outdoors and patterns of physical activity, and of the importance of these associations throughout the life course.

In 2008, we published a paper called ‘The childhood factor: Adult visits to green places and the significance of childhood experience’ in Environment and Behavior.*

Drawing on data collected in different parts of Britain, we reported a strong relationship between frequent childhood visits to woodlands or green spaces and the likelihood of visiting such places, alone, in adult life.

The data also suggested that the physical and the emotional benefits of access to green space are strongly reflected in childhood experience.

Eight years on, with stories of diminishing childhood time spent outdoors still in the news (see yesterday’s Irish Times, for example), we’d like to finish with some conclusions from our paper…

“People who often visited green places as children are more likely to associate natural areas with feeling energetic and more likely to visit green or wooded areas within walking distance of home, both of which suggest that habits of healthy outdoor exercise as adults are linked to patterns of use established in childhood.

People who were frequent visitors as children are also more comfortable visiting woodlands and green places alone as adults and more likely to think green spaces can be magical places.

It appears that such people have not just a physical relationship with green outdoor places but also an emotional one that influences how people feel about themselves and makes them more open to positive and elemental experiences in these places. Because lack of confidence in going to parks or natural areas on one’s own may be a serious deterrent to people enjoying the physical, social, and psychological benefits of outdoor activities (Burgess, 1998), it is important to establish whether childhood experience can be a factor in increasing confidence levels for adult visits to such places.

Concerns about increased restrictions on today’s children and their freedom to roam outdoors, as expressed in the focus groups in our projects and described in the literature, must be reinforced by the possibility that this will be a factor in limiting healthy outdoor exercise and positive relationships with the environment when today’s children are adults”.

* Ward Thompson, C., Aspinall, P. and Montarzino, A. 2008. ‘The childhood factor: Adult visits to green places and the significance of childhood experience’ Environment and Behavior 40 (1) pp. 111-143. doi:10.1177/0013916507300119

We’re launching a new MSc in Landscape and Wellbeing!

OPENspace is delighted to announce a new MSc in Landscape and Wellbeing at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) at the University of Edinburgh.

The one-year programme will take an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to understanding the importance of the environment for human health and wellbeing.

Delivered by an expert academic team led by Professor Catharine Ward Thompson, it will draw on the most advanced theoretical and methodological research in the field and is aimed at academics and practitioners working in landscape architecture, planning, design, geography, public health, psychology, epidemiology, horticulture and ecology.

It is designed to help you understand the evidence base on salutogenic landscapes (those that support and enhance human health and wellbeing), translate research into practice, and guide more effective environmental interventions.

Find out more about the programme on the ECA website

> Watch a recording of an online Q&A about the programme
(Please note that this requires you to install and run Blackboard Collaborate)

Is it Nice Outside? Dementia and the natural environment

Here at OPENspace, we’re delighted to see the publication of the latest Natural England report, Is it nice outside? New research into dementia and the natural environment.

The result of a collaborative project with Dementia Adventure, the Mental Health Foundation and Innovations in Dementia, the report reflects the views of 54 people living with dementia and over 170 carers.

Image of older people walking outdoors

Having explored older people’s attitudes towards getting out and about in a number of recent projects (including Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors), we see many of the same thoughts and needs articulated by people with dementia in the report, including…

  • their drive to be physically and socially active outdoors;
  • the importance, to them, of informal walking outside;
  • their appreciation and need for a quality environment – one with accessible signage, walkways on even ground, and facilities such as toilets, cafes and places to sit and relax.

We are pleased to see that the report bears out the popularity of city parks and public gardens and that “several people with dementia talked passionately about the role their local park played in providing them with somewhere to go, and as somewhere to enjoy watching other people taking part in activities”.

OPENspace and Natural England

As a member of the Outdoors for All Strategic Research Group, Catharine Ward Thompson commented on the new report prior to publication.

OPENspace and Natural England have worked together many times over the years, most recently on a project looking at the importance of ‘wild adventure space’ for young people.

The launch of Is it Nice Outside? comes in the same week that we announce funding for the second phase of Memory-Friendly Neighbourhoods, our knowledge exchange programme with dementia researchers at the University of Stirling.

Funded by the Scottish Universities Insights Institute, this project explores how local communities can support people with dementia, meeting the urgent need for insights to guide the development of environments for ageing-in-place and lifelong social inclusion.

Download the report, Is it nice outside? New research into dementia and the natural environment, from the Natural England website

Find out more about Memory-Friendly Neighbourhoods

Find out more about Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors

Another step forward for the National Walking Strategy

The National Walking Strategy Action Plan for the next ten years has been released, along with a new website and an infographic on how we can all contribute to ‘getting Scotland walking’.

OPENspace team members have played an active role in both the development of the Strategy (which was launched in 2014) and the new Action Plan, with Catharine Ward Thompson being a member of its Working Group and Delivery Forum, and Sara Tilley contributing to a workshop on its implementation.

The vision for the National Walking Strategy is “a Scotland where everyone walks as part of their everyday journeys, places are well designed for walking and everyone enjoys walking in the outdoors”.

The Action Plan was announced by Jamie Hepburn, the Scottish Government Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health, at a ScotLINK Active Health seminar on Thursday 3rd March.

Read the Action Plan on the Step Change Scotland website

Infographic on walking

Let’s Get Scotland Walking – the new National Walking Strategy infographic

Catharine Ward Thompson appointed Honorary Professor at the University of Exeter Medical School

Our Director, Catharine Ward Thompson, has been appointed an Honorary Professor at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH).

Launched in May 2011, and led by Professor Lora Fleming, the Centre is part of the University of Exeter Medical School.

ECEHH research falls into two major areas: emerging threats to health and wellbeing posed by the environment; and the health and wellbeing benefits the natural environment can provide.

Catharine’s three-year appointment marks a strengthening of links between OPENspace and ECEHH which builds on previous knowledge exchange activities, such as the Blue Mind Summit, Sara Warber’s study visit to Edinburgh, and the two-day meeting Fostering Sustainable Environments for Improving Future Health and Wellbeing.

Visit the European Centre for Environment and Human Health website

Catharine at a conference dinner