How do we (respectfully) share and protect tranquil spaces in our cities?

Celebrating tranquillity can help protect, improve and create more tranquil spaces in our cities for all.

Tranquil City[1] is a grassroots urban initiative that seeks to challenge preconceptions of cities. We believe that, by better understanding and promoting the concept of tranquillity in urban areas, we can create cities that better respond to the often-forgotten need for respite from stress, congestion and pollution, providing an escape without the need to leave the city.

A recent article in ThinkingCity[2] questioned whether, by mapping tranquil spaces in London, we were putting them in danger by making them more widely known, as they would become more used and risked losing their very tranquil attributes as a result.

First of all, we’re very glad that Francesca Perry (of Thinking City) agrees with us that “spending time in these places can relieve the pressure of city life, restore a sense of strength that enables you to cope with it.” This is one of the key ideas behind our project.

We’re also really glad to be generating a debate. This illustrates how these spaces matter to people. We believe there needs to be more awareness of the topic and more discussion on the best approach in today’s cities.

Francesca Perry’s question is one we often get asked and indeed, one we’ve asked ourselves from the start. We, however, take a different view, based on our experience and in response to the current context of London and other large cities which suffer from inequalities and limited land availability.

Sharing what we love

First of all, we think there are many tranquil spaces in London with the capacity to benefit more people and still be enjoyable to those who already know them.

We all know people who do not enjoy London and some who have moved out of the city altogether, complaining it is too noisy, busy, and polluted; often, they have rarely, if ever, meandered or turned a corner randomly, because they don’t think there is much to discover or they don’t feel confident to do so. We’re hoping to help people have a better experience of the city, particularly those who are not long-term Londoners and may struggle with their initial impressions.

The other reason we want to widely and freely share the wonders of London is that there are large inequalities in access to green space and exposure to air and noise pollution, and they tend to correlate with socioeconomic inequalities[3][4]. We aim to be part of the range of approaches encouraging and allowing people to walk more, explore, slow down and relax, and enjoy the wealth of benefits that their city offers.

Valuing tranquillity in order to protect it

Secondly, our experience is that in London and other major cities a significant threat to tranquil spaces is not over-crowding, but them disappearing (e.g. being built on or becoming privatised and inaccessible to most), particularly when they are not explicitly valued and protected. We see the appeal in the romantic notion of a city full of secret treasures for deserving explorers and those “in-the-know”. However, we can’t forget the day-to-day practical context of private interests and pressure on land.

Our project aims to celebrate and give visibility not only to these spaces but also to the value they have for citizens.

Phytology(Photo from the Phytology project, with thanks and acknowledgements to Nomad for permission to use)

This is a very important objective of our work. Most of us know places at threat of disappearing – not the “established” spaces which are specifically protected due to their size, heritage, biodiversity attributes etc, but the little pocket park or seemingly forgotten space that is used and passed by many on a daily basis, often quietly “owned” and improved by local residents as community asset, whether formally recognised or not.

Tranquil spaces under threat from development: Top: Old Tidemill Garden, Deptford (photo credit: Tranquil City); Bottom: Dalston Eastern Curve, a project by J & L Gibbons and muf architecture|art (photo credit: Ania Mokrzycka)

There is actually a provision in the planning system to protect such spaces[5], but in our experience, this is seldom used. We hope our work can support groups in protecting the tranquil spaces that they value.

Planning Policy_Tranquil Spaces

Embracing the changing city

Of course, some of those “treasures” might someday become crowded or a tourist attraction: we can’t fight against the principle that people attract people – after all, it’s one of the reasons why at least some of us choose to live in cities. We understand the nostalgic feeling this can bring. On the other hand, we hope that through more awareness and understanding, other places might be discovered, created or protected. Embracing the changing character of our cities is part of our approach: London is always evolving. It’s one of the beauties of a big city and why exploration can go on, and on.

We also hope that celebrating tranquil spaces will bring the attention of those in power (be they planners, developers, landowners etc) to the benefits of creating new ones.

What would you do with these places? Could they become one of your tranquil places?

By adopting a crowd-sourced approach, we are deliberately open-minded and inclusive of subjective elements. We encourage people to reflect on what ‘tranquil’ means to them as individuals, in their urban context, so that we can support the continued diversity of spaces in the city.

We aim to enable people to continually identify new tranquil spaces, and provide a framework to help protect and create them.

The city is not static, there is always change, and therefore always the potential for more secret tranquil spaces! We hope our project can empower people to shape what that change should be.

Join the movement at www.tranquilcity.co.uk

Come along to one of our Tranquil City explorations

Share your own tranquil spaces

Post to Instagram with #tranquilcitylondon, as well as the location, to be featured on the Tranquil Pavement London map and celebrate urban calm for all.

Follow us

 

We are:

  • Grant Waters, acoustician
  • Alberto Calzada, data scientist
  • Ben Warren, air quality consultant
  • Diana Sanchez, socio-economist
  • Julie Godefroy, sustainability consultant

 Thank you to OrganiCity for their support.

References

[1] www.tranquilcity.co.uk

[2] https://thinkingcity.org/2018/01/21/a-city-with-no-more-secrets/

[3] Public Health England & UCL Institute on Health Equity, Health Equity Evidence Review 8, Local Action on Health Inequalities: Improving Access to Green Spaces, 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/357411/Review8_Green_spaces_health_inequalities.pdf

[4] Greater London Authority, Better Environment, Better Health, 2013. https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/gla_migrate_files_destination/Better%20Environment%2C%20Better%20Health%20%28Haringey%2C%20311013%29.docx081113.docxAF.pdf

[5] National Planning Policy Framework, in particular, policies 4, 8 and 11

 

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