My thoughts after attending Mobility, Mood and Place Conference

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Last week I had the privilege to attend the 4th conference of Open Space People Space Series on Mobility, Mood and Place while helping in the organisation. This was an amazing opportunity to interact with the leading researchers in this field and learn contemporary research on Healthy, happy and active ageing, Co-designing the built environment with mobility in mind, Experiencing mobility and Health, mobility and place through the life-course across the globe.

The keynote, plenary and the parallel sessions I attended enriched my knowledge of the research on older people’s health and well-being as well as created an impact on my thoughts on the issue. I am intrigued to explore the issue of health and well-being, and at the same time I wonder how our research can have a true impact on people’s life in real.

At this point of researching on open space, I wonder whether we are creating and/or in confusion about what we mean by ‘green space’, ‘open space’, ‘natural environment’, and now ‘blue space’. I was really moved in an Outdoor Learning Conference when a delegate spoke about how ‘nature’ is a construct of ourselves. ‘Natural environment’ or ‘nature’ is something we put in contrast of ‘man-made’ or ‘built’, however, natural environment is something men design and therefore, a part of the built environment. The contributions of open space/green space to people’s health and well-being are now widely recognised, however, what is it’s implications? Are we working on creating more and more evidence on the benefits of green spaces/blue spaces which don’t provide enough guidelines for implementation in built-environment design?

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Fig: My colleague Ziwen presenting his PhD research on walkability in the conference

The discussion on the gap between academia and practice is something common at every conference. We are discussing on how we can reduce the gap between academia and practice for years, yet it still seems we are not even close to that. I know some Scandinavian countries have been successful in integrating academia and practice in the design and the development of the built environment. In some countries, industries now a days appoint researchers for evaluation of the designed built environments. What I very much appreciated in mobility, mood and place conference was the diversity of presenters in each parallel session. Delegates from academia and practice were presenting at the same session on a certain theme, therefore, complementing each others’ works.

In order to address the gap between academia and practice, in the Young Researchers’ Workshop (as part of IAPS conference 2016) a group of researchers suggested the need of a group of professionals who would work to connect researchers and practitioners. However, rather than injecting middlemen, I do think researchers need to take risk and go beyond their comfort levels adopting experimental action research strategies and practitioners should step in the field of research. If that’s too ambitious, I wonder if the practitioners and researchers could have worked at the same project as a package, that could create much stronger evidence feeding the new design and also redesign of the existing environments.

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Fig: Delegates during a session

I was struck by one question during one plenary session. What evidences we are showing in 2016 in order to create a healthy and active city are same what Jane Jacobs said in her “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” 50 years back. We should ask what held us back implementing these evidences. I am sorry I could not concentrate on what Professor Billie Giles-Corti responded to that question, but I was looking for opportunities for a discussion with Billie on that.

Professor Gloria Gutman’s powerful words in her keynote were thought-provoking. While I totally agree with ‘there is no such design called universal design’ and ‘one size does not fit all’ but I am also aware that we all live in the same built-environment. It’s a challenge how we can make that environment livable and accessible for all – elderly people, people with visual environment, pregnant women, children and young people and also women who would prefer to walk in heals. Therefore, one thing that worries me much is whether in order to narrow down our focus in research, we are creating too many categorisations. Would not age-friendly cities also be child-friendly? In the process of creating and co-designing age-friendly cities, are we sometimes too focused on people of only one age group and therefore, not taking other age-groups’ needs into account?

“Our cities are growing and greying” – What a powerful quote from Professor Gloria Gutman. This made me think about completely different but related topic. How the geographies differ from one country to another, one continent to other! On the other hand, how similar the new cities across the globe look like. If the geographies are different, the built environment ought to be different. For a sustainable living environment and life style we not only need to reduce the gap between academia and practice but also between different disciplines. Mobility, Mood and Place Research project worked with people from different disciplines and the conference brought people from different background on the same platform. I hope the spirits of the conference would also be reflected in our everyday works in academia and practice, we will contribute to reduce the gaps bit by bit on every single day.

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Fig: Conference dinner in the magnificent Playfair Library

3 thoughts on “My thoughts after attending Mobility, Mood and Place Conference

  1. hi Matluba I read your post. It is an amazing review of the Mood, Mobility and Space conference. I liked your view and your questions developed based on the conference content. About the part you mentioned the quote:” one size does not fit all” I also agree about the fact that many categories are established for each community like elderly and this may not necessarily serve other age groups and it would be an amazing world if we could design better for all. However, I also think breaking down to categories for designers prevent the creativity ‘block ‘. Limited variables are more reasonable to be managed by decision makers in my opinion.

    1. Thanks very much Roxana for your insightful feedback. I very much agree with you on the point ‘Limited variables are more reasonable to be managed by decision makers’. As researchers we also need to control many other variables to establish a causal relationship between independent and dependent variables. However, a research project can be robust taking different user groups’ needs into account or focus on one user group. Nevertheless, if designers focus on only one aspect that might be detrimental in creation of an effective space for different user groups. Researchers suggest implications focusing on one issue, but designers have to consider all issues related to a particular built environment.

      We were discussing with Simon after the conference. It might be worth to create several screenings to test whether a park/urban environment works for the more vulnerable user groups first (children and young people, elderly, pregnant women and people with disability). If an environment works for these groups, it would work for others as well.

  2. Thank you Matluba. I agree with your point. However, I think designers can not still claim or be expected to consider all issues related to a particular environment, since built environment can never satisfy all groups of people at all times. Another point is for researchers and designers to be working and investigating issues together through a top-down and bottom-up strategy which yet should always go through the governmental legislation and causes latency in practical impact. Optimization in design process is also still an evolving process and yet to be adjusted. As an architect for instance, we use digital programs for dealing with design variables and we know how it works within a limited framework i.e. no more than 5-6 variables can be analyzed for designing an architectural object or space. Additionally,when dealing with sensitive groups, we might also ask in which context or with what cultural/political background. This is just to emphasize the fact that for designing urban spaces or facilities, we might have various sensitive groups in different countries and context to deal with.

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