Welcome to Well Green!
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
I'm Vikki Houlden and Well Green is my brainchild: a research page-meets blog, designed to
share my work and (hopefully) bring people together who are interested in improving cities- with a specific focus on benefitting mental wellbeing through well-designed urban greenspace. Well Green's aim is to work together to grow the evidence base for how, why and where greenspace is most effective, and who it benefits, in order to reduce inequalities and generate recommendations for healthy urban design.
So first, a little bit about me. I'm Dr Vikki Houlden, Lecturer in Urban Data Science at the University of Leeds, UK. I'm a big fan of getting outdoors and connecting with nature. In freer (ie non-Pandemic) times, I love travel and climbing hills. Mostly for the last year I've enjoyed hanging with my cat, baking, and a whole lot of living room yoga.
Back in the day, I started out studying Civil Engineering at the Univeristy of Warwick in 2010. In my fourth year, on a bit of a whim, I signed up for a module on Health and Wellbeing in the Built Environment. Until then, I’d been reasonably interested in the physical forces involved in designing a structure but whilst studying that module, I suddenly had a comic-book light bulb moment; I realised that creating environments for people, to support their mental wellbeing (and not just their roof), was what I wanted to do with my life.
So I applied for an Urban Science PhD with integrated Masters at Warwick Institute for Science of Cities and spent the next 4 years trying to figure out how and why nature can be so important for us, and subsequently how we can go about bringing this into the city. I also branched out my analytical skills in this time, working increasingly with map data, programming (team R) and geospatial analysis.
In the final year of my PhD, while juggling my write-up, I worked half my time as an Academic Technologist, a role I think is specific to Warwick, which combines module design and delivery with data collection and department tech support. I primarily taught hands-on GIS, combining spatial methods and practice in urban science, as well as supporting students through their Disserations and other labs.
My thesis, titled 'Bringing Cities to Life: the Relationship Between Urban Greenspace and Mental Wellbeing' was (finally!) completed in 2019, and I moved to Newcastle to start my first full time 'proper job' as a Research Associate in Spatial Inequality, in the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS). I worked with geospatial and longitudinal methods to further explore how urban greenspace should be designed, to improve mental wellbeing, as well as beginning to expanding my research interests into broader socio-spatial inequalities and dabbling in machine learning.
As much as I love living in such a vibrant city, I'm really mindful of taking time to enjoy Newcastle's beautiful greenspaces and nearby coastline, and we're really lucky to have Northumberland's incredible national parks right on our doorstep.
At the start of 2021, I joined the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, in my first Lecturer post and permanent position (woohoo!). As a member of the Centre for Spatial Analysis and Policy (CSAP) research cluster and Leader of a new MSc in Urban Data Science and Analytics, I am really enjoying this new challenge and excited for the course launch in 21/22.
As a relatively Early Career Researcher, I'm feel like I'm really just starting out and I have a lot of ideas for areas of research and things I want to find out, as well as several projects currently on the go, spanning greenspace, IoT biodiversity detection, data and decisions, and peripheralisation (for more on this, see my Research page.) But, so far, I think we can safely say we’re at a place where we know greenspaces to be important – not only for our mental wellbeing, but by providing us with access to nature, an opportunity to get outdoors, and making our increasingly urban neighbourhoods more attractive. And in the meantime, if you are feeling a little stressed or down, connecting with your local greenspace might just help you reset, and remember how beautiful the world really can be.