On Monday 27th November 2023, our Engagement Lead Chloe McFarlane, presented at The Developer’s Festival of Place: Climate Resilience event, exploring Tranquil City’s unique ways of talking to communities about environmental quality data and climate change. Climate resilience refers to the ability of ecosystems and local communities to cope with, prepare for and adapt to extreme climate events. Covering a diverse range of topics from overheating to net zero, nature-based solutions and community engagement, the annual conference event invited professionals from across the UK (including developers, local authorities, architects, designers and academics) to learn and be inspired by case studies of best practices.
How do we help people engage with environmental quality in cities?
It’s well known that high-quality green spaces are fundamental in achieving climate resilience. In urban areas, they provide multifunctional benefits for both city dwellers and biodiversity – improvements to physical & mental health, improved air & noise quality, reduced flood risk and urban cooling during extreme heat events. Information about the environmental quality in cities, however, is often extremely complex and numbers-based. At Tranquil City, we believe this is a massive barrier, limiting community understanding, support and participation in local area greening initiatives which contribute towards climate resilience. In reaction to this challenge, Chloe expanded on Tranquil City’s three novel approaches for engaging communities in environmental quality data. This included reflections on our bespoke Tranquil Pavement London mapping tool, our Tranquil Walks series and the latest Tranquil Stories series. Three fictional characters were also created to convey the issues communities typically face when understanding and using environmental quality data.
“I just want to find a peaceful space in the city to relax and escape the stresses of work”Joaquim’s story
Kicking off the presentation, we first reflected on Joaquim’s story, a fictional social worker from Newham. Resonating with many others in London, Joaquim expresses “I just want to find a peaceful space in the city to relax and escape the stresses of work.” Back in January 2018, we created Tranquil Pavement London – a user-friendly, interactive, mobile-ready site which allows users to explore diverse environmentally tranquil spots in London. Responding to Joaquim’s concerns, the Tranquil Pavement condenses a large amount of complex data on noise and air pollution into a simple visual representation. The colour scheme encourages users to explore the greener areas and discover tranquillity more easily. On Instagram, Twitter & Facebook anyone can contribute short videos, photos and quotes, with the geospatial tag #tranquilcitylondon, building a rich visual map of London’s most restorative places. Giving a nod to the revamp, tags can also be used to raise awareness of threatened tranquil spaces in need of volunteer support.
Since its launch, the Tranquil Pavement has been incredibly successful. At Lewisham Council’s Air Quality Champions event in March 2018, primary school students (aged 8-11) effortlessly used the map to create a healthier route from home to school, reducing exposure to air and noise pollution. Reflecting upon the latest challenges with the platform, changes to privacy settings on social media may increasingly limit contributions of environmentally tranquil spots to the online map.
“I think that most of London is void of tranquillity and I find it difficult to explore and discover new spaces on my own”Antonella’s story
Next in the presentation, we reflected on Antonella’s story, a fictional young mum from Lambeth. Relating to many others, Antonella mentions “I think that most of London is void of tranquillity and I find it difficult to explore and discover new spaces on my own”. Since starting in 2017, Tranquil Walks has been a key part of our work, enabling diverse individuals and communities to explore environmental quality data with each other. We carry out free public walking tours throughout the year (in London and beyond), to understand the reality and experience of tranquility in the city. We also carry these informal, relaxed walks to promote discovery of gaps where there are fewer posts on our Tranquil Pavement map and spark deeper conversations about areas preconceived to be busy and highly polluted.
Our South London’s Green Connections walk (held as a part of Jane’s Walk London Festival in May 2023) highlighted the strengths of this community engagement approach. During this event, we explored the findings of a recent literature review we undertook for Natural England, navigating what factors increase the use and attractiveness of diverse green space types. Over 30 people attended the walk and the audience was extremely diverse, with curious residents, PhD students, nature conservation enthusiasts, food security groups, architects and health wellbeing researchers attending. Testimonials from the event highlighted greater awareness of the value, varying quality and uncertain future of some green spaces (amidst rapid commercial redevelopment) in the Peckham, Walworth and Elephant & Castle areas. Testimonials also revealed people’s joy in meeting others and seeing new ways of exploring and improving local areas. Similar results were found with our Rewilding Barking & Dagenham walk, which we held in August this year.
Amidst extensive social media advertisements of our walks, one persisting challenge is the limited engagement of young people, who also play a critical role in building and delivering future climate resilience.
“We are doing so much in our community to bring nature into a deprived area. We don’t have the time or resources to celebrate or share this. No one really knows of our existence”Flora’s story
Finally, in the presentation, we reflected on Flora’s story, a fictional volunteer at a local community garden in Newham. She says “We are doing so much in our community to bring nature into a deprived area. We don’t have the time or resources to celebrate or share this. No one really knows of our existence”. In response to Flora’s concerns about the visibility of citizen-led initiatives which contribute towards climate resilience, we’ve recently launched our Tranquil Stories series. In our campaign, we are telling inspiring stories of the people and communities who share our vision for every person to have access to environments that support healthy, balanced & environmentally aware lives in cities. As seen with our White City Meanwhile Garden and Manor Park Community Garden blog posts, we provide rich accounts of how citizen-led tranquil spaces are being created, used, their environmental, educational and health benefits to immediate neighbourhoods and imminent threats to protection.
At this early stage, the success of our interviews is hard to determine. In the future, we hope to maximize the impact of our Tranquil Stories by strategically looking for stories in socially deprived areas or neighbourhoods with certain environmental quality characteristics (i.e. high levels of air and noise pollution, insufficient access to high-quality green spaces and/or play areas) which could benefit from additional local authority support and funding.
Our presentation concluded with three key takeaways for urban planners and policymakers to consider when engaging communities in environmental quality data and climate change concepts. Firstly, we urge practitioners and policymakers to give a voice to people creating change in their local area; even small impacts can be big when done collectively! Secondly, we encourage professionals to explore reality and experience of tranquillity with others, combining in-person events with technology. Lastly, we encourage urban planners and policymakers to tell a story, which may help with bringing environmental quality data alive and add an element of relation!
In our Q&A we received a diverse range of interesting questions, including how to prepare socially deprived areas for climate change, whilst promoting activity levels and how to bring business improvement districts (BIDs) towards environmental data. On the former, we are combining our expertise with numerous environmental charities like Urban Growth, to identify areas of need for urban greening and the upskilling of communities. We’ve also been collaborating with various BIDs, Cross River Partnership, Better Bankside and Team London Bridge to name a few, and also looking at how small-urban design interventions can be strategically implemented with our “Make My City Thrive” tool to achieve climate resilience.
At Tranquil City, we greatly look forward to advancing these different engagement strands in 2024 and hope to work with some of you too!
If you would like to learn more about our four engagement pillars framing Tranquil City’s work, please get in touch with Chloe at email@example.com.
Author(s): Chloe McFarlane