What kind of severance to measure?

Post by Dr Jennifer Mindell

One of our first tricky decisions is what level of severance to study in this first project.  Should we study the obvious, major severance that can be seen easily where a railway line or a busy A road or motorway cuts through an urban or suburban area? This may be so bad that people don’t even try to get across; are resigned to the noise and the dirt from the road; and live their lives on ‘their’ side of the obstruction. It affects their quality of life and maybe their mental wellbeing and even their physical and mental health, but could anything realistically be done to change it?  Are options, such as diversions for pedestrians, underpasses, or bridges no better than not crossing the roads?

Should we look at the more subtle effects on residential streets (what Appleyard calls ‘neighbourhood streets’), where people might expect to live in relative peace, with easy access to their neighbours across the road as well as next door, and where the streets used to be used as social spaces until rat runs and general increases in traffic levels discouraged them?  Appleyard and Lintell also found that people on heavily trafficked streets reporting their ‘home territory’ as only their own home, or even just the rear part of their home.  In lightly trafficked streets, residents often described their whole streets as their ‘home territory’.

There are effects of community severance for people of all ages.  For example, playing and traveling independently outside improves children’s physical and psychological development.  However, because we cannot do everything at once, we are focussing on people aged 50 and above for this first study.  Once we have chosen our case study areas, we will be asking groups of local residents what they think the important issues are, to ensure we develop a tool that measures what they think matters.

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