Measuring the Tranquil City: How can we demonstrate the benefits of urban greening in an inclusive way?

As the Tranquil City collective grows from strength to strength, we’re really excited to have Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe join the team for a year, to develop and co-design our impact assessment tools with local communities. We believe that continuously monitoring the environmental and psychological benefits of tranquil spaces is important in driving healthier, greener and more equal cities. In this article, Ellie shares detailed insights into this project:

I’m delighted to be joining Tranquil City as a British Academy Innovation Fellow for 2024-2025. I am a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey, where I teach and conduct research on people’s relationships with their physical surroundings. Specifically, I am interested in places that support human flourishing. I’ve been working in this field for over 10 years, exploring topics like the psychological benefits of listening to birdsong, the memories we associate with favourite places, and how nature can support creativity. This Fellowship allows me to apply my knowledge of social science to Tranquil City’s focus on creating greener, healthier, and more sustainable cities.

Spending time in nature supports human health and wellbeing, and this also includes physical activity generated through active travel (e.g., walking and cycling). Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to outdoor space to reap those benefits, especially in cities. The European Environment Agency notes that certain socio-demographic groups face particular barriers to their safe, easy enjoyment of urban nature; e.g., those with low incomes, disabled people, migrants, and people of colour. Some of these groups of people are also more likely to live in areas with higher air and noise pollution, meaning that they experience two concurrent types of urban inequality: increased risks to health and wellbeing from the environment, and reduced access to health-promoting places. Yet such people are the ones most likely to benefit from experiencing nature, because it can be one way of coping with stress associated with adverse life experiences.

New River Walk and Garden, Canonbury, London N1.

Psychologically beneficial nature can be found in  everyday environments, too. In a study conducted in Leipzig, Germany, Dr. Melissa Marselle and colleagues showed that having more street trees within 100m of the home significantly reduced the likelihood of being prescribed antidepressants – specifically among people with low socio-economic status. Equality of access to nature is crucial, so that we can better support health equity for all.  

Community gardens at Loughborough Farm, London SW9.

Interventions like urban greening, and the provision of green walking/cycling routes, provide opportunities for people in cities to experience the benefits of nature and live more sustainably. Impact assessment is key to understanding the success of these interventions – and whether they help communities who stand to gain the most. To do this properly, we need tools that allow us to measure success in a way that makes sense to many different audiences: people living in cities, developers and landscape architects, those involved with on-the-ground delivery of projects, and their funders. These tools should be rigorous, easy to use and understand, and reflect the mosaic of different lived experiences that make up city life. This is at the heart of my Innovation Fellowship: designing, together with diverse communities, inclusive methods to show the benefits of investing in more tranquil cities.

If you would like to connect with Ellie Ratcliffe about this project, please email: