Enhancing Urban Liveability

Festival Tent from the Rowing Club
View from the Claddagh
City Life, at Shop Street Galway

The Research Objective:

A emphasis on uniqueness in urban planning & placemaking, and a focus on the importance of quality in design and quality of life for all citizens!

Principal Researchers:


Ireland appears to be slowly and painfully emerging from its recent economic shock and troubles and many have offered new ideas about our shared futures. For researchers at the SSRC, this will involve considering the importance of two interconnected phenomena; the experiential economy and placemaking. Both are about quality of life. We suggest that focusing on quality of life will enable Ireland to compete internationally and in a more sustainable manner. Indeed, despite the recent economic malaise goods and services that give customers 'an experience' have seen their market share increase. Winners in the experience economy trade on uniqueness, quality, design, and on the symbolic nature of what they offer. Massification has given way to a mature consumer economy where we express our own unique identities through products and services in a way that could not be done in the past. The experiential economy and the importance of the local, the authentic and the designed begin to emerge as fundamental in a renewed focus upon the importance of quality and quality of life in Ireland.

How and where we live, the day-to-day experience of place also matters. Quality urban planning contributes directly to our quality of life and there is now solid evidence that urban planning design affects us physically, socially and mentally. A lot of it comes down to whether the place you live requires you to drive to attain your daily needs. Planning, building, and maintaining real places worth living in requires efforts; it requires urban design, landscape architecture, and joined-up policy thinking. It requires multidisciplinary perspectives, creativity and an appreciation for uniqueness. We need to think far more about quality of life and about tapping the potential and power of smart technologies to improve government services and urban liveability. Irish planners and engineers need to focus more on place-making. That is, creating built environments that people are attracted to and enjoy being in. People want to live in well-designed, unique places that are beautiful. We want to live in authentic communities where we feel connected to each other. Indeed, the successful emergence of many cities owes much to placemaking, preventing anti-social behaviour, promoting urban 'liveability' and de-emphasising the car.

Some material taken from the article 'Quality, uniqueness and place. Planning for quality of life' by Kevin Leyden and Patrick Collins in The Village Magazine, 9th March 2015

Professor Kevin Leyden

Prof. Kevin Leyden

Kevin M. Leyden is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Galway. He also serves as Co-Director of the Creative, Liveable and Sustainable Communities Cluster of the Whitaker Institute. He was previously the Director of West Virginia University’s Institute for Public Affairs and an Honorary Research Professor of Social Science & Public Policy at the Whitaker Institute.

Kevin’s teaching and research interests include social capital, public policy, public opinion, elections, interest groups, health policy, energy policy, land-use & transportation planning and issues of sustainable development. His research has been published in the American Journal of Public Health, Environmental Health Perspectives, Environment International, Urban Affairs Review, Health & Place, The British Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, Legislative Studies Quarterly, American Politics Quarterly, American Journal of Health Promotion, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers: Urban Design and Planning, and Policy Studies Journal, among others. His current research focuses primarily on the relationship between the community design, social capital, health, and climate change. He serves as a partner with the World Health Organization’s Large Analysis and Review of European Housing and Health Status (LARES), and is a Research Fellow with the Global Metropolitan Forum which is examining the quality of life in ten major international metropolises. In addition, he is currently completing an analysis of transportation planning as part of a research grant from the Irish Environmental Protection Agency. Other recent research grants include an analysis of over 69,000 residents affected by an environmental clean-up project in Parkersburg, West Virginia and an analysis of disaster evacuation plans for the Office of Homeland Security.

Some Recent Publications

  • Kevin M. Leyden and Lewis-Beck, M.S. (2017). The Economy and the Vote in Irish National Elections. In Michael Marsh, David M. Farrell and Gail McElroy (eds) A Conservative Revolution? Electoral change in 21st century Ireland,. Oxford University Press
  • Kevin M. Leyden and D’Arcy, L.F. (2017). Rethinking Zoning for People: Utilizing the Concept of the Village. In Amnon Lehavi (ed) One Hundred Years of Zoning and the Future of Cities, pp. 77-93. Springer
  • Kevin M. Leyden, Slevin, A., Grey, T., Hynes, M., Frisbaek, F. and Silke, R. (2017). Public and Stakeholder Engagement and the Built Environment: A Review. Current Environmental Health Reports, Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 267-277. doi:10.1007/s40572-017-0159-7.
  • Hogan, M. J., Kevin M. Leyden, Conway, R., Goldberg, A., Walsh, D., & McKenna-Plumley, P. E. (2016). Happiness and health across the lifespan in five major cities: The impact of place and government performance. Social Science & Medicine, 162, 168-176. [available to download]
  • Kevin M. Leyden and Goldberg, A. (2015). The built environment of communities and social capital. In John M. Halstead and Steven C. Deller (editors), Social Capital at the Community Level: An Applied Interdisciplinary Perspective. New York and London: Routledge
  • Barnes, R., Bauman, A.E., Giles-Corti, B., Knuiman, M.W., Rosenberg, M., Kevin M. Leyden, Abildso, C.G. and Reger-Nash, B. (2015). Motivated to walk but nowhere to walk to: Differential effect of a mass media campaign by mix of local destinations. Preventive Medicine Reports 2, pp. 403-405. [available to download]
  • Bias, T.K., Kevin M. Leyden, and Zimmerman, J. (2015). Exploring Policy-Maker Perceptions of Small City Downtowns in the USA. Planning Practice and Research, pp. 1-17. [available to download]
  • Hogan, M., Johnston, H., Broome, B., Mc Moreland, C., Walsh, J., Smale, B., Duggan, J., Andriessen, J., Kevin M. Leyden, et al. (2015). Consulting with citizens in the design of wellbeing measures and policies. Social Indicators Research, 123(3), pp 857-877. [available to download]
  • Kevin M. Leyden and Collins, P. (2015). Quality, Uniqueness and Place: the Experiential Economy and the importance of the local, the authentic, and the designed. Village (March). [available to download]

Recent Projects and Impact

  • Placemaking Symbosium and Workshops: Architecture at the Edge Festival, 2017
    Co-organiser, Presenter and Moderator. O’Donoghue Centre and Theatre, NUI, Galway. September 29th, 2017
  • Re-designing our cities for health and well-being
    Environment Ireland, 2017. Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland. September 28th, 2017
  • Participatory Urbanism, 2017
    Co-Organiser, Moderator and Presenter. Conference for COST Action TU1204 People Friendly Cities in a Data Rich World. Hotel Bloom, Brussels, Belgium. April 6-8th, 2017
  • City of Galway: Galway European Capital of Culture Bid 2020 (2014 -2016)
    Critical part of the NUI, Galway team to support PHASE 1 of the bid for Galway to become the European Capital of Culture in 2020. The bid process required an intensive public and stakeholder consultation process and the detailing of novel programming plans. The bid process also required that we work with the city and region to determine how earning a European Capital of Culture designation would affect Galway and its social, infrastructural and economic development in the short and long term. Phase 1 was successful. The collected information that will be useful for on-going research on urban viability and culture. [Galway 2020 Website]
  • Co-creating Urban Spaces: The Transformation of the City COST Winter School, 29 March-1 April, 2016, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland
    Participation in the organisation of the Winter School and provided three lectures. The Winter School was sponsoredby the University of Iceland and EU COST. All students were Post-docs and received ECTS credit.
  • People-Friendly Cities in a Data-Rich World
    Invited Panalist at the Smart Cities Expo: World Congress. 19th of November, 2015 Barcelona, Spain
  • 24 Hour Universal Design Hackathon
    Invited Participant at The International Universal Design Conference, 12th & 13th of November, 2015 Dublin Castle, Ireland.
  • The Liveablity of Towns: Thoughts on Creating an Irish Urban Policy
    Invited Public Presentation at the Conference Realising the Hidden Potential of Ireland’s Towns: Policies & Priorities for their Future. 5th November 2015. The Set Theatre, Kilkenny, Ireland. Sponsored by The Heritage Council of Ireland

Dr Mike Hynes

Dr. Mike Hynes

Mike Hynes is a Lecturer in Political Science and Sociology specialising in Environmental Sociology, Mobilities and Transport, Sustainability Research and Society-Technology-Environment-Interactions. He leads the Governance and Sustainable Development research cluster, Joint Secretary of the Social Sciences Research Centre (SSRC), and founder of the Research Experience and Learning (REaL) initiative.

Mike gained a first-class honours Batchelor of Science Degree in Information Technology (IT) through Oscail/DCU, the National Distance Learning Centre, in 2007, and an honours Master’s Degree in IT in 2009 from the National University of Ireland, Galway. He's PhD research work for the ConsEnSus Project (2009 to 2013) explored the advantages and drawbacks of ‘virtual mobility’ options and their sustainability attributes. Mike has a long-standing research interest in sustainability issues related to transport, technology adoption and diffusion and socio-technical transitions, which reflects his previous work and his intellectual curiosity regarding diverse forms of technology use in everyday contexts (e.g. households, businesses, organisations). He is very familiar with key theoretical approaches to sustainability transitions and related areas of debate (e.g. MLP, EM, various practice-theoretical and environmental sociological approaches) and he has successfully applied these insights to the topic of sustainable transport, mobility and the ‘consumption of distance’ in his previous research. The connection between urban form and transportation systems is of crucial importance to creating well-designed and liveable localities, while improving the health of individuals and building community resilience. Mike’s current research interests continue to focus on mobilities, liveability and quality of life issues, in addition to ICT and the societal changes stimulated by open social media platforms and policy design in relation to work and environmental decision-making.

Some Recent Publications

Recent Projects and Impact

  • Whitaker Institute Ideas Forum Seminar Series
    21st February 2018, Paper Presented: Investigating Public Transport Satisfaction Levels in Galway: Preliminary results from a quantitative student-run research study
  • BEHAVE: Climate Change and Behavioural Change | Future Earth Ireland
    Invited Speaker, 17 November 2017, Supported by the Royal Irish Academy and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Member of the 'Future City Network'
    An informal group of academics, Environmental NGOs, sustainable transport activists, and other concerned groups and citizens interested in envisioning a more sustainable future for Galway
  • Mobilities and Liveability in Galway Project
    An innovative research project seeking to capture people’s opinions and understanding of transport, mobility and liveability in Galway City, Ireland. The study is being carried out by researchers and undergraduate students from the School of Political Science & Sociology at the National University of Ireland Galway over the summer months of June, July and August 2016. [project webpage]
  • Presentation to An Taisce Green-Schools Programme Meeting (January 2016)
    On the latest research in environmental sociology, sustainability and transport.