Giving Compass' Take:

• Urban planners and architects in Europe are utilizing virtual reality technology to help gauge how residents feel about city planning initiatives. 

• By addressing the emotions of individuals, city planners can see what types of architecture makes people happier, thus creating more spaces that promote community well-being. How can donors support these technology initiatives? In what other ways can tech help advance community development?

• Read about creative placemaking as a way to engage in systems change work. 

Virtual reality and scenario-testing models are being built to help urban planners and architects get real-time feedback about the impact of their designs on mental health, particularly for older people.

Europe’s cities are getting greyer. The EU’s 2018 ageing report claims that by 2070, more than half of Europeans will be over the age of 65. Poor health and a limited income mean older people can be more susceptible to isolation, depression and mental decline. But what if city design could instead be used to boost wellbeing?

A combination of neurologists, architects, artists, and epidemiologists are now seeing how to do just that, by testing people’s emotional response to spaces such as redeveloped buildings and plazas before a single brick is laid.

As part of the MINDSPACES project, artists and architects first come up with a blueprint for a city square, for example, which can then be turned into a digital simulation. Locals can then ‘see’ what the simulated blueprint looks like by donning a pair of virtual reality (VR) goggles.

‘During the VR experience, the (physical) space in which the person will react will interact with the (digital) space,’ says Dr Stefanos Vrochidis, senior researcher at the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas, Greece. Users also wear lightweight devices that measure their brain activity, skin response, and heart rate while they explore the virtual space.

Using these devices, neurologists then use machine-learning programs to figure out the most pleasant, inspiring or emotionally appealing aspects about the proposed design.

Read the full article about using VR to advance urban planning from Horizon Magazine at The Naked Scientists.