Author Archives: openspaceeditor

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

Play+Design=Learning: guest blog post by PhD student, Matluba Khan

Each year, the University of Edinburgh holds Innovative Learning Week (ILW), a festival to inspire, support and celebrate creative learning. This year’s theme was ‘Ideas in Play’.

In this guest post, PhD student Matluba Khan tells us about an ILW event she devised with Nik Farhanah and other colleagues from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), working with children aged 5-11 on a real-life outdoor design challenge.

Illustration of Edinburgh College of Art

Illustration of Edinburgh College of Art (Image courtesy of Katie Forrester)

As she explains in her post, Play+Design=Learning builds on Matluba’s PhD research at the University of Edinburgh on Design for Outdoor Education in Bangladeshi Elementary Schools, as well as Nik’s PhD research on children’s participation in designing educational environments.

Matluba’s research is co-supervised by Simon Bell and Eva Silveirinha de Oliveira of OPENspace, together with Sarah McGeown of Moray House School of Education. Nik’s is co-supervised by Fiona McLachlan in ESALA, together with Catharine Ward Thompson of OPENspace and Kay Tisdall of the School of Social and Political Science.

Photo of school children in Bangladesh

Image courtesy of Apel Pavel

“Working in my office, looking at spreadsheets for hours, days and weeks, my mind often returns to working with the children in Bangladesh to build their dream school ground.

On one such occasion, I received an email calling for proposals for Innovative Learning Week 2016 and it came to my mind… can I do something similar for the children in Scotland with support from ILW?

I shared my idea with Architecture PhD student, Nik Farhanah, who is also working with children, exploring their participation in designing learning spaces in Scottish schools.

She immediately agreed and we had our first formal meeting perched on a staircase!”

Poster for Innovative Learning Week

Keeping it local

“Our initial idea was to work in the grounds of a primary school within walking distance of Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), where we are both based.

Then we thought “how about we get the ECA open space designed by the young landscape architects?”

So, the project became focused on the green space at the heart of the ECA campus on Lauriston Place, with indoor activities held in the college café overlooking the grounds.

We planned a day of inter-related activities, including an ice-breaker craft activity, an accompanied walk-along audit of the college grounds, a re-design of the outdoor space using drawing and modelling, and plenty of group discussion and presentation”.

Photo of children drawing a landscape

Image courtesy of Matluba Khan

Image of children on an outdoor walk

Image courtesy of Matluba Khan

Getting friends on board

“Play and learning are very multidisciplinary, so we asked for input from colleagues in related fields.

Norhanis from Landscape Architecture did the multimedia projection, photography and videography, Katie from Illustration designed beautiful certificates for our youngsters, Sharifah from Education looked after the children’s wellbeing on the day, and Reyhaneh from Landscape Architecture helped the youngest group (Nik, Katie and myself were also facilitators).

Our friends worked a great deal to advertise the event among their colleagues and friends and the response and outcome of the event surpassed our expectations.

The enjoyment of working with out-of-the-box designers with wild imagination as well as reasonable thinking (which we often don’t want to accredit children with) cannot be compared to anything else”.

Photo of children doing a group design task

Image courtesy of Matluba Khan

What we learned

“We not only enjoyed but also learnt how we can work with children more effectively to generate creative and effective design ideas, for example, taking into account how children of different age groups express their ideas in different ways, and which materials children prefer to work with.

The children also learnt, through seeing, analysing, acting on, collaborating and listening to each other, but above all through playing with different materials, colours and objects.

They designed water features and modern seating. They proposed a bird feeder and bird bath to attract birds and a shelter where students can paint or sketch when it rains.

They picked up on things like the potential to incorporate some modern art forms or sculpture that would right away communicate the college’s status with any visitor”.

ILW presenting

Image courtesy of Matluba Khan

You can read an extended version of this post on Matluba’s blog, PhD_the other half, where you can also keep up to date with progress on her research.

> go to Matluba’s blog

We would also like to take this opportunity to extend our congratulations to Matluba who has just been announced as the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities’ first ever Thinker-in-Residence, in partnership with Deveron Arts.

Katherine and Sarah at Active Living Research 2016

This week, two of our researchers are at ALR2016 in Florida, USA.

The Active Living Research Annual Conference brings together researchers and active living champions from over 30 disciplines to advance knowledge and action around active communities.

The 2016 conference theme, Equity in Active Living, explores opportunities to ensure that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, economic background, level of education, age, sexual orientation, gender identify, physical and/or cognitive ability, have access to safe and enjoyable places to be physically active.

Katherine Brookfield and Sara Tilley are delivering two of the three papers in the Conference session on Older Adults; only 20 academics papers were accepted to the conference overall (in addition to 20 by practitioners), so the team have done exceptionally well.

And they won’t miss this gorgeous January weather in Edinburgh…

Edinburgh in the rain

Introducing our fourth international conference…

We are delighted to announce an international conference on Habitats for Happy and Healthy Ageing.

The conference will take place in Edinburgh on 11th – 14th October 2016.

This is the first announcement of the call for presentation and poster abstracts.

The call, and details of online submission, will be forthcoming later in January 2016.


The conference themes are:

Theme 1: Healthy, happy and active ageing

How can we realise healthy, happy and active ageing for all?

We invite abstracts that consider diverse factors including exercise, nutrition, service provision, assistive technologies and adaptations, income and benefits, social isolation and participation.

Theme 2: Co-design and the built environment

What makes an environment age-friendly? How can we better involve user groups in the design of our built environment?

We invite abstracts on the physical design of age-friendly environments at a range of scales, from individual homes to the neighbourhood and the wider community, as well as on innovative methods of co-design, particularly those engaging older adults.

Theme 3: Experiencing mobility

What does mobility mean for older adults? How is it experienced and perceived?

We invite abstracts on various aspects of ageing and mobility including mobility behaviours and practices, aids and barriers to mobility, what motivates mobility, and older people’s experiences and perceptions of outdoor mobility.

Theme 4: Lifecourse of health and place

Does an individual’s place of birth, and the places in which they have lived, influence their health in later life? What might the introduction of a lifecourse perspective bring to our understanding of the relationship between health and place?

We invite abstracts on the relationship between health and place as conceived through a lifecourse perspective. This could be through the use of historical environmental data, or other approaches.


We are delighted to confirm the following keynote speakers:

  • Professor Billie Giles-Corti, Director, McCaughey VicHealth Community Wellbeing Unit Centre for Health Equity, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
  • Professor Gloria Gutman, Vice-President, International Longevity Centre Canada and Professor/Director Emerita, Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre
  • Professor Richard Sennett, Centennial Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University
  • Professor Sarah Wigglesworth, Director, Sarah Wigglesworth Architects and Professor of Architecture, University of Sheffield

The Welcome Address will be given by Dr Heidrun Mollenkopf, Vice President of AGE Platform Europe and Member of the AGE Universal Accessibility and Independent Living Expert Group.


To register your interest and receive future conference announcements, please email OPENspace@ed.ac.uk



Logo for Open Space People Space conference series
The conference is the fourth in the international Open Space : People Space (OSPS) series. Previous OSPS conferences have taken place in Edinburgh in 2004, 2007 and 2011.
Find out more about previous OPENspace conferences