Monday, 27 November 2017

Tranquil City - Curating urban calm to promote healthier city living

Think of a city. One that offers space for nature, respite and calm.A city where you can wander and listen to the sounds of people and wildlife together.This is the Tranquil City. This is London.

Cities are traditionally looked at as dominated by noise, congested, and polluted. But what if they also offered opportunities to slow down?

Tranquil City 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.

Our approach: focusing on appeal, combining objective with crowd-sourced subjective data.

The initiative started with two key questions:

“Can tranquillity be found in the city?

We take an open approach to tranquillity: we recognise that, as a state of mind, it has a subjective element, and we want to understand and celebrate the environments which can help evoke the feeling of tranquillity within the bounds of the city.

The Tranquil City approach:

  • We share interests with many other initiatives for better cities and better wellbeing;
  • We combine objective data with subjective crowd-sourced data;
  • We promote positive attributes and personal exploration, rather than providing “top down” advice and set routings.

We crowdsource London tranquil spaces via Instagram, where anyone can post images and videos of “their” tranquil spaces tagged by #tranquilcitylondon, with short descriptions of why they feel their spaces are tranquil if they wish. The spaces are then collated to form the Tranquil Pavement map, which is freely accessible online at

The idea is that by showing where tranquil spaces are, within an easily-relatable visual representation on lower pollution areas, we can help people navigate the city via tranquillity along relatively low pollution routes, and help facilitate the discovery of more tranquil spaces.
Extract of the Tranquil Pavement map, showing crowd-sourced tranquil spots; the background colours reflect annual average levels of noise and air pollution

The attributes of tranquil spaces: nature, local, a respite from surroundings

Interestingly, while the dictionary definition of tranquillity is most closely associated with noise levels, among our crowd-sourced tranquil spaces the strongest correlation is with green space. Most show design and soundscape elements related to nature even if the urban environment is not necessarily absent as most spaces also include built structures.

Another notable point is that many spaces are not “flagship” green London areas and large parks, but rather small and dispersed across the city. This highlights the value of green spaces in proximity to people’s homes and workplaces, which they can easily and frequently use or pass by in their daily lives.
Our findings align with best practice principles of urban design and the work of others (ref 1, 2, 3, 4). Furthermore, many crowd-sourced tranquil spaces are routes rather than destinations, highlighting the opportunity to contribute to the promotion of low-impact transport and active lifestyles.
Pillars of tranquillity

Support from Organicity helped us to carry out an initial analysis of noise and air pollution levels in tranquil spaces. On average they offer (unsurprisingly) lower exposure levels, although in some contexts, places with relatively high noise levels are still considered tranquil (at least at some times or for some users). This highlights the importance of relative tranquillity, and even more so in the city: that difference in sound level when you walk away from the main road onto a quieter street or park; the moment you take a breath, calm down and connect with your environment again. This is what Tranquil City is exploring, the tranquillity that is relevant to you, on your doorstep, part of your every day.

Can travelling via tranquillity improve our health and wellbeing?

A comparison was made of sample A-to-B routes with alternative routes through tranquil spaces, identifying potentially significant reductions in exposure levels (20-30% in annual average levels – and probably even greater reductions in exposure in peak, busy periods).
This means adopting tranquil routes regularly could offer health benefits directly related to reduced pollution exposure, in addition to enjoyment and wellbeing benefits.

Community engagement and co-creation

We have conducted a series of workshops and walks to demonstrate how the Tranquil Pavement could be used to help people find low pollution and tranquil routes.
Workshop held at the Future Cities Catapult in February 2017 to present the initial iteration of the Tranquil Pavement to the public. This helped us improve its readability and test its potential impact.

During Green Sky Thinking 2017, we held walks between Highbury and Islington and Holloway Road in London. The first was along the quickest route, as from Google Maps, and the second went through crowdsourced tranquil spaces in the area. After both walks we asked participants how they felt and what they smelt, heard and tasted.
Walks during Green Sky Thinking
Along the tranquil route, participants travelled via green spaces, they smelt flowers, they looked up more and they felt calm, peaceful and content. They were more inclined to slow down, stop and sit down and even be a little late. Almost all of them said they were very likely to walk or cycle this route again. Additionally, the route offered a 20% reduction in noise exposure and a 50% reduction in NO2 exposure, based on average annual levels.

A notable finding is that some participants had been working in the area for years but did not know about some of the green spaces we took them through, despite them being on their doorstep.

Green Sky Thinking 2017 ‘Walking through the Tranquil City’ event route highlighted on the Tranquil Pavement map, alongside comparative pollution exposure histographs

What’s next?

We are now about to start a new stage of our development, with further support from OrganiCity. This will focus on two elements:

  • Community engagement, with three pilot areas in London: City of London, London Bridge/Southbank and Deptford, where we will work in partnership with local authorities, businesses and resident groups; this will help us grow the Tranquil City crowd-sourced data, better understand what tranquillity means in different contexts, and test how it can help encourage walking, cycling, respite, and urban exploration;
  • Creation of a freely available Tranquil Pavement app, which will be co-created with our partners in the three pilot areas.

Overall, we believe Tranquil City can support and add layers of understanding to existing environmental and health and wellbeing initiatives on transport and urban design; it also highlights further opportunities for citizen engagement through its crowd-sourced and open approach, inclusive of subjective aspects.     

Join the movement

Post your tranquil spaces to Instagram with #tranquilcitylondon to be featured on the Tranquil Pavement map and celebrate urban calm for all.

This post has been reproduced for the Resilient Cities blog (with permission), based on an original post for the Tranquil cities website.


  1. National Planning Policy Framework, in particular policies 4, 8 and 11
  2. Tranquillity and soundscapes in urban green spaces — predicted and actual assessments from a questionnaire survey, University of Bradford, 2011
  3. Westminster Open Spaces Noise Study, 2008
  4. Quiet City Project from the City of London, 2010

Julie Godefroy is a chartered engineer, WELL Accredited Professional (AP) and BREEAM AP.

She is a member of the National Trust Historic Environment Group and its Design Advice Forum, and a member of the advisory group for UCL IEDE's new MSc in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings.