How colour interventions in urban spaces affect residents' wellbeing


Historic old town of Alkmaar, North Holland, with typical coloured Dutch houses. Colour interventions in urban spaces can increase fascination, curiosity and physiological levels of arousal among people. Photo: AFP

Advocates of the metaverse expect tomorrow's city dwellers to spend a lot of time in this virtual universe. But what will the virtual cities of the future look like?

They could well be filled with vegetation and colourful designs to enhance the wellbeing of their avatarised inhabitants, a new French study suggests.

Although the metaverse is still in its infancy, the development of this virtual universe raises questions about how we interact with urban planning and space.

One subject of particular interest to researchers is the place of wellbeing in the making of cities. For years, they have been advancing several hypotheses on how to promote the wellbeing of city dwellers.

One of them concerns the positive impact of greenery and bright colours on the morale of inhabitants. This theory was, until now, difficult to study accurately because the feelings and perceptions of city dwellers are influenced by a multitude of external factors, such as weather, noise or traffic.

Rethinking tomorrow's urban planning

A team of researchers from the University of Lille used virtual reality to measure the impact of vegetation and colourful patterns in the city.

They equipped 36 participants with a virtual reality headset and eye and heart sensors to immerse them in a virtual urban environment with different configurations (with or without vegetation, or with coloured patterns on paths).

They were also asked to complete a questionnaire on their feelings.

The scientists found that participants walked more slowly when surrounded by virtual greenery, which helped lower their heart rate.

They also spent less time looking at the ground and more time observing their surroundings. These results indicate that they were having a pleasant experience.

Another finding was that the presence of coloured and geometric patterns did not especially induce a feeling of calmness in the volunteers, unlike vegetation.

However, it did induce a clear improvement in their attention.

"Colour alone is not sufficient to offer the restorative effects of vegetation in urban cities, but colour interventions in urban spaces can increase fascination, curiosity and physiological levels of arousal," reads the study, recently published in the journal Frontiers in Virtual Reality.

While many studies have emphasised the importance of vegetation in cities, this research underscores the critical role that virtual reality could have in tomorrow's urban planning.

"Many cities don't have the financial means to plant trees everywhere in a concrete environment," Yvonne Delevoye, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Lille and lead author of the study, told Version Femina.

"The people in charge of urban planning could, on the other hand, see where it is possible to add shapes and colours, on old buildings for example, and especially see if painting a sidewalk green or a wall blue can have a real impact on the wellbeing of citizens.

"In this sense, virtual reality is a decision-making support tool."

It seems that the city of the future will be much less concrete than science fiction novels might have imagined. – AFP Relaxnews

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