Water, green space key to urban tranquillity

CHARLEY MANN
Last updated 05:00 13/08/2012
John Pearse
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ
QUIET ZONE: John Pearse, left, and Greg Watts in the sound lab at the University of Canterbury. Watts has a plan to de-stress cities.

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Looking at historic buildings can help relieve stress, an international expert says.

Greg Watts, professor of transportation noise at Britain's University of Bradford, said Christchurch could be rebuilt as a truly tranquil city, where workers can relax and unwind.

Watts, a world-renowned acoustic expert, visited the University of Canterbury last week as part of his studies looking at tranquillity in cities.

"People in cities get stressed because they are constantly bombarded with information," he said. The feeling of tranquillity has been proven to speed recovery from stress and improve health.

However, the level of noise is just one factor; the feeling is also affected by visual surroundings.

Through his studies Watts has found that historical buildings made from natural materials, running water and greenery greatly improve tranquillity.

Humans become more relaxed near water because early man would seek water to survive.

Relaxing environments can be replicated within cities by adding water features and attracting wildlife, or playing recordings of bird song. Shielding modern buildings from view with vegetation also helped, he said.

Maintenance was important, as graffiti and litter negatively affected people's perceptions of a relaxing environment.

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