eMOTIONAL Cities: Mapping cities through the senses of who make them

emotional cities
© Antonel

Funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, eMOTIONAL Cities is a 48-month project, with a total budget of nearly €5 million, that is designed to fully characterise the intensity and complexity of urban health challenges and inequalities

What if we were able to know how, how much and exactly what in the urban environment where we live and work affects our feelings and emotions, and how it affects our mental wellbeing?

Urban planners and health professionals have so far failed to demonstrate with scientific evidence this interrelation between urban living and mental health and wellbeing. Urban health, and particularly mental health, has been often forgotten in urban planning and city design, even though there seems to be common agreement that the built and natural environment in which we live affects our physical and mental health.

In the eMOTIONAL Cities, we want to create scientific evidence on how the built environment affect’s our mental wellbeing.

What is the purpose of investigating the relationship between mental wellbeing and the built environment?

We are convinced that through our project, the following specific objectives will be reached:

I. Identify policy-relevant research questions and develop a “eMOTIONAL Cities conceptual framework” for linking urban environment, neuroscience and physical/mental health and wellbeing. The goal is to extend current knowledge with new, systematic evidence from case studies, as well as real-world experiments and, by collaborating with relevant stakeholders, achieve a better translation of science to policies.

II. Apply geospatial analytics, through quantitative and qualitative method- ologies, to four different urban case studies, across two continents (three in Europe and one in the US), to determine critical urban area characteristics, as well as to map physical environments, socio-economic features, mobility patterns and real-time geo-social media determinants of health. This will capture the perceived emotions and identify the driving factors affecting the perceptions of the urban environment.

III. Combine controlled laboratory experiments with field ecological research by directly capturing people’s physiological and neurobiological responses while interacting with specific urban artefacts. We aim to identify how the brain regions responsible for processing the emotional valence and arousal that influence individual decisions adapt to buffer environmental influences, so that we could better predict when such mechanisms could be dysfunctional or not able to compensate. We expect to achieve this by taking advantage of virtual reality, as well as mobile sensing devices and platforms; and through the integration of neurophysiological (high-density and wireless electroencephalography – EEG) and neuroimaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging – fMRI) brain activity.

IV. Collect and analyse both geospatial and neuroscience data paying specific attention to vulnerable groups, age and gender aspects in order to identify barriers and facilitators of urban spaces that are truly inclusive. The approach is designed to consider a multidimensional gender perspective – by going beyond binary views and accounting for intersectional aspects (such as age, race/ethnicity, income, place of residence etc). We will be focus on providing important evidence for vulnerable elderly people at risk of developing dementia on how urban characteristics may impede functional performance.

V. Create an open spatial data infrastructure (SDI) capable of integrating multisource heterogeneous geospatial and neuroscience datasets and time series information. We aim to share and provide spatiotemporal query and answering capabilities for city emotional places within and beyond the eMOTIONAL Cities stakeholders’ community.

VI. Integrate statistical data and geospatial descriptions with con- textual neuroscience information to generate evidence-based knowledge on how the natural and built environment, as well as the social fabric, affect cognitive and affective wellbeing. This will be achieved by comparing urban realities from differ- ent countries, considering their contrasts and similarities. This will be critical to validate a set of universal cognitive and emotional indicators and models that could be used for measuring and predicting urban health, quality of life, environmental risk-assessment and sustainability.

VII. Provide insights and policy- related recommendations to improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing in cities by leveraging the project’s evidence-based knowledge with machine learning-based scenario discovery. Linking research to practical need, our project will develop fundamental methodologies to support decision making in terms of scenario discovery and showcase covering different dimensions of the duality in urban environment – mental health and wellbeing.

VIII. Raise awareness on how the built environments relate with human senses and shape emotions and health, fostering citizens to act and request for better policies that address wellbeing. Through a targeted dissemination and communication strategy, relevant stakeholders will be made aware of eMOTIONAL Cities and encouraged to be involved in the project, notably through several tools including workshop preparation for the outdoor experiments, the project website, in-hand dissemination materials and other online tools.

IX. Ensure project sustainability after its conclusion. eMOTIONAL Cities aims to be a sustainable project by developing an exploitation and business plan that includes specific actions to ensure the long-term impact of the main outputs. It is focused on the exploitation of scientific and industrial outcomes. The business plan will focus on assessing the commercial value of the innovative health data and knowledge produced by the project towards urban planning solutions that promote urban health in the long term.

One of six projects in the European Urban Health Cluster

eMOTIONAL Cities is one of six projects that comprise the European Urban Health Cluster resulting from the Horizon 2020 topic SC1-BHC-29-2020 Innovative actions for improving urban health and wellbeing – addressing environment, climate and socioeconomic factors, with the aim to promote urban health in the European Urban Agenda and to optimise synergies, and avoid overlaps between the projects selected from funding on the above mention call.

The eMOTIONAL Cities consortium is led by the Institute of Geography & Spatial Planning (IGOT) with the co-coordination of the Faculty of Medicine (FMUL) of the University of Lisbon. It comprises 10 other members from academia and industry.

In the brain will be the answer.

In the public space and the built environment, we will find the solutions.

Contributing authors: Paulo Morgado (IGOT), Bruno Miranda (FMUL) e Ana Bonifácio (IGOT)

The eMOTIONAL Cities project is a consortium of 12 partners from different geographies

ATTRACT has received funding from the European Union’s HORIZON 2020 Research programme under the Grant Agreement no. 777222.




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© 2019. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license

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Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning
University of Lisbon
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