10/16/2015

Can Science Help Build Happier Cities?

22:40 minutes

In 2011, Colin Ellard led volunteers equipped with skin conductance sensors on a walking tour through New York City’s Lower East Side. This graphic maps volunteers’ stress levels (as measured by the sensors) according to their location. Images courtesy of Colin Ellard
In 2011, Colin Ellard led volunteers equipped with skin conductance sensors on a walking tour through New York City’s Lower East Side. This graphic maps volunteers’ stress levels (as measured by the sensors) according to their location. Images courtesy of Colin Ellard

Ever sit down on a city park bench and immediately notice your shoulders relax? Or feel your heart begin to pound as you navigate a tricky, crowded intersection? If so, then you know the power of the built environment to affect our bodies, brains, and behavior.

Cognitive neuroscientist Colin Ellard has made a study of how our city grids, storefronts, and streetscapes shape us. He’s led volunteers outfitted with sensors on walking tours through cities like Berlin and Mumbai, and watched subjects navigate virtual green spaces in his VR lab. Ellard joins Ira to talk about how we can measure the physical and mental effects of our streetscapes—and use that knowledge to build better. Read an excerpt from Colin Ellard’s book, Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life.

  • Ira followed one of Colin Ellard’s research tour routes through New York’s Lower East Side earlier this week. His first stop was the Sara D. Roosevelt park. He described it as “a splash of green in a sea of grey.” Photo by Annie Minoff

  • Ira chats with a Science Friday fan outside his second tour stop: the frosted facade of the Lower East Side’s Whole Foods market. “The only thing to hold my attention is the pumpkin beer in the window,” he said. Photo by Annie Minoff

  • Ira’s final tour stop is the busy intersection of 1st Avenue, Houston Street, and Allen Street. Surrounded by construction, truck noise, and exhaust, he says it’s “not a place I want to hang out.” Photo by Annie Minoff

Segment Guests

Colin Ellard

Colin Ellard is a cognitive neuroscientist, the author of Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life (Bellevue Literary Press, 2015), and the director of the Urban Realities Laboratory at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Canada.

Heard on the Air

Read an excerpt from Colin Ellard’s book, Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life.

Meet the Producer

About Annie Minoff

Annie Minoff is co-host and producer of Undiscovered. She also plays the banjo.

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An excerpt from "Places of the Heart."

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