Urban splash

What is it about water features in our cities that seem to have such magnetic power over busy adults and boisterous children? Could it be a deep subconscious memory of the parched savannah of our past? An ancient unquenchable trigger that ensures we locate and map water in our environment?

Sheffield’s town planners may have employed landscape psychology in their bold approach with urban-blue water features – creating a visual and soothing sound oasis. Whatever the intent, the outcome is not unlike Mitterand’s Le Grand Projects in Paris in the 1980s or indeed Versailles centuries before it.

Arriving at the city’s central station you are greeted by the spurts and gurgles of roaring jets and fountains – concealing the vehicular din of the city’s dual carriageways. It is but a hint of the unfolding drama that can be discovered elsewhere in the city – which employs water on a scale unprecedented in the UK to regenerate its heartlands.

But what can all this urban aqua do for public health and wellbeing? Recent research we’ve carried out for CREW – Scotland’s Centre of Expertise in Waters – and presented at last week’s GreenHealth Conference flags the health improving benefits of water settings – and water sensitive urban design – now a mandatory requirement of all new development in Scotland.

But – as Tim Smedley accords in his article in The Guardian there’s a long way to go in the health research. What – for example – could the mobile EEG kit we’ve pioneered recently to explore restorative settings in the city reveal about the effect of water on stress?

Whilst water benefits from the play of sunshine and light on it’s surface, we know next to nothing of the effects of climate and weather on our visual or physical engagement with water – and the arising health benefits.

Even on a downcast day the people of Sheffield simply disregard the inclement English weather to interact and engage with its calming water features.

Now that’s interesting, isn’t it ?