Familes enjoying a sunny afternoon in Exploratory Park, Brent Cross Town

PLAY in your park

Exploratory Park is now open for use from early morning till dusk, daily – just a 12-minute walk from Brent Cross tube station.

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Familes enjoying a sunny afternoon in Exploratory Park, Brent Cross Town

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20 November 2020

Why we’re introducing a new ‘flourishing’ index

Woman in allotment
Wellbeing is more complex than quantum physics and the questions are twice as interesting.

Talk about health and wellbeing can sometimes be like the partner who says “I love you” but never buys flowers or even cooks dinner – well-intentioned, but falling short where it counts. Here, we’ve pledged to build a North London town where everyone can flourish, a community that values neighbourliness, inclusivity and good health. What’s to say we mean it?

At Brent Cross Town, our love language is academic rigour, fused with best practice. In partnership with engineering consultancy Buro Happold and the University of Manchester, we’re introducing a new flourishing index. It’s a measure for how well the people at Brent Cross Town are doing – and in turn how well we’re doing.

Young boy between rows of crops on allotment
Woman working on allotment
Photos above: the plots of Golders Green Allotment Association border Brent Cross Town and provide a place for growing food. Photos: Tian Khee Siong

For a long time, researchers didn’t even try to measure wellbeing. Dr Jamie Anderson from Buro Happold and the University of Manchester explains, “We thought it was just too subjective.” Definitions for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression have been hashed out over the past hundred years or so, but positive mental health is still relatively uncharted territory, “Wellbeing has only really come to the fore in the last ten or fifteen years. As you can imagine, humans are complex beings with messy brains and minds, so we are just now gleaning compelling insights.” He quotes Stanford University academic Johannes Eichstaedt, “Wellbeing is more complex than quantum physics and the questions are twice as interesting.” (Eichstaedt has studied both, so he should know.)

We’re dedicated to developing a place which not only makes life better, but that can prove it.

With Anderson and his colleagues, we’re not only applying these lessons, but we’re also working to evolve this nascent field. Our new flourishing index builds on the progress of another pioneer; Professor Felicia Huppert is a former supervisor of Anderson’s who drew up 10 wellbeing measures that form the basis of the European Social Survey. But he argues that there’s a gap still to be filled: nine of those 10 metrics purely ask about the individual, measuring aspects like emotional stability, optimism and self esteem. What about communities and how we relate to one another?

As well as individual flourishing, this new index will also look at neighbourhood social flourishing like safety, trust and participation. Where existing wellbeing measures fixate on the individual, this will systematically examine how communities feel socially and realise their potential collectively. In short, it’s all about us, not all about me. How happy people are in their local areas is something that has rarely, if ever, been captured at this scale.

Footballers share anti-bac gel
Players at a programme run by local team Hendon FC share hand gel. Photo: Tian Khee Siong

Whether it’s how many trees to plant or more intangible questions like how environments should feel, everything we build and do will be scientifically informed. The other strand of work we’re doing with Buro Happold and the University of Manchester is about making sure architects and urban designers respond to the latest health and wellbeing findings to Brent Cross Town.

Anderson believes that it’s on researchers to provide stronger evidence for what works. Most often, studies of the built environment are ‘post occupancy evaluation’ snapshots; think data like, “These people walking in the park say they are happy.” He argues that it’s paramount to move beyond that and find stronger ways to demonstrate causality, providing enough evidence to make statements like, “These people are happy because they are walking in the park.” A previous paper led by Jack Benton at Manchester University  provides further recommendations for how to justify conclusions about the effects that places can have on all of us.

Around 120,000 people live within a 10-minute cycle ride of Brent Cross Town. They will soon be joined by the 35,000-odd people who will live and work in this new town. And don’t forget the rest of London, who can visit and enjoy world-class facilities for sport and play. We’re dedicated to developing a place here which not only makes life better for these three groups of people, but that can prove it – where decisions are informed by science and where community is key to flourishing.

Girl playing with hoop