The Comfort Pursuit

Post-PhD life: Short-term visiting researcher position in the opposite side of the world

Aachen's Town Hall. Together with the Cathedral and the Katschhof, it forms part of the city's Carolingian centre
Aachen’s Town Hall. Together with the Cathedral and the Katschhof, it forms part of the city’s Carolingian centre

In August last year, I applied for a visiting researcher position in the ILS – Institut für Landes- und Stadtentwicklungsforschung (or in English: Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development). Earlier this year I’ve got the good news that my project had been approved and very shortly (less than a week!) after submitting my thesis I headed to Germany, with a stop in Brazil on the way.
When you live in one of the most isolated countries in the world, things become ‘on the way’. Not a bad thing though. I am now living in Aachen, which is the westernmost city in Germany and located in the border with Belgium and the Netherlands.

My PhD research at Lincoln University was about the dimensions and preferences for urban life that make people from Christchurch want to adapt to the climate to be in public open spaces. As an isolated country, New Zealand strongly preserves its culture, and its cultural peculiarities and differences are significant even if compared to Australia. These particular characteristics made very clear the role of regional identity and place experience on urban comfort. But on the 9 April I presented a PhD results seminar and a question came out from that:

How would the concept of urban comfort work in a more cosmopolitan and culturally mixed country/region/city?

The answer for this question is my next challenge, and as a visiting researcher in ILS I am starting to develop my next project. To start with, summer in July is not something that is part of my own memory or culture.

Here is an extract from my proposal entitled “The influence of culture in adaptation to (micro)climate towards urban comfort”:

In my doctoral research I have been investigating how the regional physical and social landscapes affect the way people use and experience the urban environment, and how an understanding of socio-cultural factors may improve urban design solutions for urban microclimates. My investigation is based on the theoretical construction of urban comfort, a concept that considers comfort in open public spaces also as a cultural achievement rather than only as a human physiological attribute. By taking Christchurch, New Zealand as a case study, my research suggests that urban comfort is shaped by urban and regional socio-cultural factors. These factors influence people’s expectations and desires resulting in particular location decisions and preferred urban design solutions. In order to broaden the empirical basis of the urban comfort concept, my proposed research will explore a different socio-cultural setting. By comparing the New Zealand findings with those in European cities, the project will investigate how public open space is used in respect to microclimate in order to identify strategies which different cultures use to adapt to their respective climatic conditions. The aim of this study is to explore how urban comfort is achieved in a European context and how policy makers use the available information. An interpretive research strategy will be adopted (Lofland, Snow, Anderson, & Lofland, 2006). The investigation will be based upon participant observation and interviews with key informants including urban designers and planners. The observations will be focused on how open public spaces are used in a Western European city. The proposed case study is Aachen, in Germany, located 50°46′ north latitude and which has 236,420 inhabitants (Brinkhoff, 2013). The comparison between Aachen and Christchurch will highlight socio-cultural differences that should be taken into account to improve local response and adaption to (micro)climate. The study will explore design and policy implications, and concepts to improve urban comfort and liveability, resilience, and adaption to climate change. The main outcome of this project will be a preliminary testing of the concept of urban comfort in European cities, which is relevant to climate change adaption.

References:

Brinkhoff, T. (2013). City Population. Retrieved 07 August, 2013, from http://www.citypopulation.de/php/germany-census.php

Lofland, J., Snow, D. A., Anderson, L., & Lofland, L. H. (2006). Analyzing social settings: A guide to qualitative observation and analysis. Belmont, USA: Wadsworth.

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