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Research project

Coastal Connections: Systems and Synergy

Project overview

Increased walking and cycling, results in significant reductions in disease burdens and has positive impact on environmental indicators such as air pollution (Woodcock, et al., 2013). Green space is important for wellbeing and mental health, as well as potentially helping us meet targets (e.g., Environment Act) for regenerating lost biodiversity. Thus, as the view that nature improves health and wellbeing is commonplace (Hartig et al., 2014), the loss of biodiversity represents a major challenge to human health and wellbeing (Wood et al., 2018). In an urban context, the provision and enhancement of green infrastructure is a means to proactively reduce the burden of poor health through prevention (e.g., Public Health England, 2020; World Health Organization, 2021), whilst contributing towards the government’s ambitious commitment to biodiversity recovery as set out in the UK’s Environment Act and subsequent Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 (HM Government, 2023). However, there are significant disparities in cycling and walking, e.g., in Southampton, 11% of women cycle at least once per week, compared to 27% of men (Southampton City Council, 2019). There is also inequity in marginalized populations with 75% from the lowest socioeconomic groups in Southampton never cycling [ibid]. Therefore, it is important to improve cycling and walking opportunities for these populations. Routes connecting users to green spaces and waterways can be a way to improve the users’ experience and help improve the uptake of active transportation, as poor uptake may be due to inaccessibility and poor quality of urban green spaces (Rigolon et al., 2018). Non-existent, unconnected, or low-quality, high-traffic transport infrastructure (walkways and cycle tracks) discourage use, as people prefer safer conditions with less traffic (Wang et al., 2014), e.g., 75% of Southampton residents think that cycle safety needs improving. Thus, utilising the green grid so it is walk and cycle friendly will be beneficial not only to link people to the waterways and coast, i.e., blue space, but also to promote health and wellbeing.
Aim: To develop an innovative model which removes physical and societal barriers in enjoying green and blue spaces to ensure that all people are independent and equal in society.
Objectives To deliver this aim, three objectives with definable outcomes will be achieved:
i) Through mapping current infrastructure, and field work, a rich and comprehensive map of the green grid, detailing barriers, and facilitators to use, including accessibility to waterways and coast, will be developed.
ii) Through workshops and interviews with members of marginalized communities, the project and outcomes will have community members’ voices integrated throughout.
iii) Data will be merged to provide an analytical approach. Connecting the city via cycle and walkways that are integrated with the city’s green and blue spaces, whilst promoting enhanced access to active transportation for marginalised populations.
Method
Taking a systems approach, two concurrent work packages will be completed:
Work package: Infrastructure Connections
This package will use operational research to support the design of a cycle network and its connection with green spaces, in line with current UK government bodies’ priorities (e.g., Scottish Government 2021, 2021a). We will make use of recent literature on cycle design (Liñán et al. 2014), whilst considering equity (Cunha and Silva 2022; Tiznado-Aitken et al. 2022) and users’ behaviours and preferences (Waintrub et al. 2016). We will use fieldwork and documentation to review the existing cycle network and green grid in Southampton and their connection to the waterfront. The aim is to identify safety concerns in the network and survey users for their journey’s preferences, purposes and concerns. The collected data will inform the modelling and the design of constraints. At the modelling phase, we will use geospatial data to identify the green spaces, cycle, and walking routes and to propose new links and paths, across and interlinking green spaces, or providing access to the coast or waterways - including an innovative method using cycling apps to help design cycling routes within quiet streets. To propose such routes, we will consider the users’ preferences, along with additional criteria such as safety and traffic conditions. We will then use optimisation to prioritise the proposed links and green areas according to cost-benefit indicators agreed upon with the City Council.
Work package: Synergy
We will work with community organisations to ensure that the voices of our marginalised residents are heard. This work package will consist of two consecutive steps:
1. Discussion group with community organisations (e.g., charities, religious establishments) to gather perspectives of the project, and to co-produce a recruitment strategy.
2. Interviews with community residents focussing on the barriers, facilitators, and perspectives of living in a coastal community and utilising the green grid, and green and blue spaces.
Data will be analysed thematically and will be interfaced with the Connections data using a framework that will be developed. After analyses, the results will be disseminated and discussed with our community members via a workshop, with feedback gathered for validation.
Implications
This pilot will result in the production of a holistic, analytic optimisation model to support decision-making. It includes a mapping of community values and perceptions of living in a coastal area and being connected to green and blue spaces via active transportation. The model will provide a tool to help councils identify priorities for joining up gaps and knocking down barriers when working with limited budgets. It is anticipated that the model will be generalisable, therefore this project will inform a further, larger grant application to test the model in other geographical locations. However, depending on the data obtained, may also inform grant applications to assess interventions to increase connectivity, for example provision of recycled bikes, cycle lessons, green grid maps, walking guides, etc.

In line with the university’s civic strategic plan’s vision of ‘working together to improve the lives and environment of people across diverse communities in a just and responsible way’ the findings from this pilot study will be used to develop 3 strands of work - I) conceptual, ii) methodological iii) knowledge exchange and policy, thus informing larger funding applications, such as the ESRCs’ ‘Developing Local Policy Innovation Partnerships (LPIP)’, or NIHR public health funding streams.
i) Conceptual: From this pilot study we will collaboratively Identify and refine community organisation-led research questions relating to green and blue spaces, which will inform the larger grant; ii) Methodological: A ‘Community Researcher Group’ will be established during this pilot and will comprise community members with a keen interest in the topic. This will inform the refinement of a range of innovative and community led methodologies for the ensuing project, and a methodological toolkit will be co-developed for councils to utilise when working with members from marginalised communities; iii) Knowledge exchange and policy: This pilot activity sets a foundation for building knowledge equity into the planned larger project, in which community organisations and community members will be able to directly shape the research, collaboration and findings in a meaningful way. A knowledge equity approach moves beyond listening to voices to providing a platform for individuals not traditionally inhabiting privileged space of policymaking/research to directly speak and write.

Staff

Lead researcher

Dr Dawn-Marie Walker

Associate Professor
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