The Bartlett


PhD student at The Bartlett's IGP investigates ecosystem services and wellbeing in public spaces

17 August 2018

IGP Doctoral student Nikolett Puskás gives an account of ongoing fieldwork in Budapest around questions of wellbeing in public space.

Green parkland

What contributes to wellbeing and better quality of life in public spaces, in different contexts? What is nature’s role in this?

Nikolett Puskás, a PhD student at The Bartlett's Institute for Global Prosperity’s (IGP), is investigating place-based notions of the above questions, currently conducting fieldwork in Budapest, supported by grants from UCL’s Connected Curriculum and the Doctoral Training Partnership (UBEL DTP).

Research is already changing entrenched narratives around prosperity and 'the good life', manifesting themselves in GDP and other debated measures, with the IGP itself contributing to this domain. Transdisciplinary collaboration, citizen science and investigating challenges in local contexts are at the core of their activities. Indeed, Niki’s research is also situated along these lines. She poses questions such as How could we increase wellbeing and quality of life in public spaces in particular contexts?, working together with local stakeholders, and very importantly ‘citizens’ – people – in a participatory manner. Combining these with the aim of addressing local challenges through nature-based solutions and ecosystem services, for just, ecological and transformative urban design. In turn, this could contribute to tackling global challenges, addressing a number of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Niki started her first fieldwork activities in Budapest, and will continue in Beirut next year as part of the RELIEF Centre (a transdisciplinary research collaboration led by the IGP, working together with departments in UCL, the American University of Beirut and the Centre for Lebanese Studies). The Budapest fieldwork began this spring with a number of activities involving students from different departments in UCL, as well as working together with students from Hungarian Universities: the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, and ELTE University’s Faculty of Social Sciences, supported by Connected Curriculum.

This initiative funds innovative collaborations working on aspects of research-based education, targeting specific ‘dimensions of connectivity’, in this instance the third dimension: students making connections across subjects and out to the world. The project’s collaborative activities consisted of investigating demographic, social and ecological characteristics of the area of inquiry, and the design and development of data collection tools specifically for a location within Budapest, in a district called Pesterzsébet, followed by the data collection itself. These were investigating, from community perspectives, the nature and meaning of wellbeing and quality of life in urban settings. The project is facilitating active community participation for a collaborative design and transformation of urban spaces to be more inclusive and diverse, promoting wellbeing for all in an ecologically conscious manner.

The data collection also involved identifying the most pressing local challenge in terms of public infrastructure, co-defined by the local community – and then mapping all stakeholders of that particular domain, to draw up the case study and be able to effectively address the particular challenge. 

The Connected Curriculum collaborations provide input for the next fieldwork phase, for which Niki was also awarded a grant. The DTP’s Knowledge Exchange Fund, for multi-way knowledge exchange working with a local NGO and other non-academic partners to develop and pilot a concept that facilitates the previously discussed community participation in the co-design of urban public spaces using nature-based solutions. The team will employ gamification concepts to facilitate informal learning and the notion of co-creation. 

At the core of Niki’s framework is the transdisciplinary approach, working with a number of local collaborators (the municipality, academics, students, activists, NGOs, etc.) as well as people from across UCL. Involving multiple local actors aims not only to achieve genuine engagement, but also to recognise and utilize local solutions to identified challenges. This approach will be taken to Beirut next, where again local collaborators are being identified to be engaged in fieldwork activities starting next year.  The concept supports developing place-based understandings of wellbeing in public spaces, and the possibilities of promoting a wider integration of nature-based solutions in urban development. Additionally, it aspires to enable the exchange of experiences and knowledge, for people at different locations to learn from – and be inspired by – each other.