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Urban environment and well-being: crosscultural studies on Perceived Residential

Environment Quality Indicators (PREQIs)


Marino Bonaiuto, Ferdinando Fornara,
Susana Alves, Ines Ferreira, Yanhui
Mao, Eva Moffat, Gloria Piccinin & Leila
Rahimi
Cognitive Processing
International Quarterly of Cognitive
Science
ISSN 1612-4782
Cogn Process
DOI 10.1007/s10339-015-0691-z

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DOI 10.1007/s10339-015-0691-z

SHORT REPORT

Urban environment and well-being: cross-cultural studies


on Perceived Residential Environment Quality Indicators
(PREQIs)
Marino Bonaiuto1,3 Ferdinando Fornara2,3 Susana Alves4 Ines Ferreira5
Yanhui Mao1 Eva Moffat6 Gloria Piccinin1 Leila Rahimi7

Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Abstract Architectural and environmental psychology


literature has shown the importance of urban design in
provoking stress feelings or enhancing well-being and
quality of life. The aim of this contribution is to show the
main results of a set of cross-cultural survey studies concerning the perceived quality of urban features at the
neighbourhood level. A questionnaire was used including
the extended or the short version of the 11 scales measuring
Perceived Residential Environment Quality Indicators
(PREQIs), which cover architectural, social, functional,
and contextual aspects. Both versions of PREQIs showed a
similar factorial structure and a good (or at least acceptable) reliability across different geographical contexts,
even though some differences emerged in those countries
that are more distant from the Western linguistic and cultural milieu. The development of tools like PREQIs should
increase a user-centred vision on urban issues.
& Marino Bonaiuto
marino.bonaiuto@uniroma1.it
& Ferdinando Fornara
ffornara@unica.it
1

Dipartimento di Psicologia dei Processi di, Sviluppo e


Socializzazione, Sapienza Universita` di Roma, Rome, Italy

Dipartimento di Pedagogia, Psicologia, Filosofia, Universita`


degli Studi di Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy

CIRPA (Centro Interuniversitario di Ricerca in Psicologia


Ambientale), Rome, Italy

Okan University, Istanbul, Turkey

Environmental Psychology, Department of Architecture and


Built Environment, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

Laboratoire Parisien de Psychologie Sociale, Universite Paris


Ouest La Defense, Nanterre, France

University of Tabriz, Tabriz, Iran

Keywords User-centred design  Evidence-based design 


Perceived urban quality  Tools reliability

Introduction
For architectural and environmental psychology, urban
design enhances stress feelings or well-being and quality of
life: perceived quality of urban design plays a role in
eliciting positive psychological molar responses, such as
place attachment and satisfaction.
Interests on urban quality constantly increased: e.g.
United Nations proposed CPI (City Prosperity Index), a
global, multidimensional tool to test cities prosperity (a
broad concept including wealth, happiness, and health)
avoiding a mere economical conception of it (UN-HABITAT 2012). CPI is a conceptual matrix with five dimensions composing a Wheel of Prosperity: productivity,
infrastructure, quality of life, equity, and environmental
sustainability are the wheel spokes.
The CPI mirrors a tool tapping so-called objective
quality assessment (Gifford 2002) of the urban environment, i.e. a kind of technical or expert assessment relying
on specific tools and measure systems (metrics, weights)
well established in the scientific and technical domain. This
type of tools fails in capturing the urban subjective
environmental quality (Bonaiuto et al. 2003), that is, the
users view and experience of a given place. The latter
relies on self-report tools for expressing a persons perceptions, observations, and impressions (but it could
comprise behavioural measures too). Tools measuring the
subjective environmental quality reflect a user-centred approach and help an evidence-based design
(EBD) approach to urban design and management (Bonaiuto 2004).

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EBD has been defined as a deliberate attempt to base


design decisions on the best available research findings
(Hamilton 2003, p. 19), assuming that the more scientific
evidence is used to guide design, the better the outcomes in
terms of quality from the users point of view. Besides
technical requirements, EBD includes user-centred
knowledge considered as crucial (Fornara and Andrade
2012).
Integrating objective and subjective measures to assess
quality of life has already been suggested with reference to
quality of life and well-being. In fact, if objective tools
properly evaluate the fulfilment of needs, subjective tools
shed light on the importance attached to different needs in
different contexts (Costanza et al. 2007).
Some studies integrated these two approaches focusing
on countries (e.g. Veenhoven and Hagerty 2006). However,
subjective assessment of the environment could be more
influenced by proximal situational factors: this integration
is thus even more necessary at the city or neighbourhood
level of analysis (Wills-Herrera et al. 2009).
The literature on psychological responses to residential
environments (e.g. Francescato 2002) deploys the term
residential at different geographical levels (Marans
2003), ranging from home, to neighbourhood, to local open
spaces, up to city or even larger geographical entities
(Bonaiuto and Alves 2012).
The present contribution regards the use of a specific
tool concerning the subjective assessment of neighbourhood environmental quality: i.e. Perceived Residential
Environment Quality Indicators (PREQIs; from Bonaiuto
et al. 1999, onwards). PREQIs tap three main components
of residential quality assessment (Canter 1983): architectural and planning features, socio-relational features, and
functional features; plus a fourth component regarding
contextual features (Bonaiuto et al. 1999).
The aim here is to present a set of cross-cultural studies
using PREQIs: the focus is on PREQIs factorial structure
and reliability test in different languages and cultural
contexts, with the hypothesis to confirm them across
samples. This is part of a broader ongoing programme
pursued within a series of studies carried out on large
metropolitan areas in different countries. Here, some of
them are presented with reference to Southern, Central and
Northern EU, as well as Middle-East and Asian
metropolitan areas.

Method

planning features, with three scales (architectural and urban


planning space, organization of accessibility and roads, and
green areas) encompassing six factors (building density,
building aesthetics, building volume, internal practicability, external connections, and green areas). Second, sociorelational features, with one scale (socio-relational features) including three factors (security and tolerance, discretion and civility, and sociability and cordiality). Third,
functional features, with four scales of welfare services,
recreational services, commercial services, and transport
services, across six factors (school services, social care
services, sport services, socio-cultural activities, commercial services, and transport services). Fourth, contextual
features, with three scales (pace of life, environmental
health, and upkeep and care) articulating four factors (relaxing vs. distressing, stimulating vs. boring, environmental health, and upkeep and care). PREQIs extended version
includes 140 items, whilst PREQIs short version has 62
items. In each scale, there are both positive-worded items
related to environmental quality presence (e.g. It is
pleasant to see this neighbourhood), and negative-worded
items concerning lack of quality (e.g. In this neighbourhood many green areas are disappearing). Responses were
provided on a 7-point Likert-type scale, from totally
disagree to totally agree.
Procedures and samples
Since PREQIs final versions had been created and developed in Italy, and published in Italian (see Fornara et al.
2010a) and English (see Bonaiuto et al. 2003, 2006 for the
extended version and Fornara et al. 2010b for the short
version), present studies were prepared to produce different
linguistic contexts versions. Back-translation was based on
the English version.
Currently, PREQIs versions exist in several languages
(Bonaiuto and Fornara 2014) concerning: European countries (French, Spanish, Swedish, Croatian, Portuguese),
Near East countries (Turkish, Persian Farsi, Azeri), and a
Far East country (Chinese). Data were recently collected
also in Australia and South America (Quito, Ecuador).
Convenience samples1 of different neighbourhoods
residents, from cities located in various countries, filled in
questionnaires including PREQIs extended version
administered in Paris (N = 340), Istanbul (N = 327), and
Chongqing (China, N = 340); or including PREQIs short
version administered in Madrid (N = 150), Malmo (Sweden, N = 110), and Tabriz (Iran, N = 239).

Tool
PREQIs tool covers four macro-evaluative residential
quality aspects (eleven scales). First, architectural/urban

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Samples were balanced for gender and age classes.

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Table 1 Extended version of PREQIs
Scale

PREQI

Italy
(N = 1488)
N items

I. Architectural and town-planning spaces

II. Organization of accessibility and roads

N items

Chongqing
(N = 340)
a

N items

1. Building aesthetics

.88

.89

.83

.86

.90

.84

.79

.84

3. Building volume
1. Internal practicability

6
8

.89
.83

6
8

.92
.76

5
6

.78
.74

4
6

.89
.74

2. External connections

.77

.76

.73

.80

10

.85

10

.89

10

.84

.85

.85

.92

.80

.82

1. Green areas

IV. People and social relations

1. Security

VI. Culturalrecreational services

N items

Istanbul
(N = 227)

2. Building density

III. Green spaces

V. Welfare services

Paris
(N = 383)

2. Discretion

.86

.78

.71

.68

3. Sociability

.81

.81

.69

.82

1. Education services

.85

.76

.71

.83

2. Social health services

.71

.70

.62

.77

1. Sport services

.88

.84

.82

.89

2. Socio-cultural activities

.84

.84

.72

.72

VII. Commercial services

1. Commercial services

.90

.82

.78

.82

VIII. Transportation services

1. Public transport

.89

.84

.68

.75

IX. Pace of life

1. Relaxing/distressing

.89

.91

.75

.90

2. Stimulating/boring

.84

.88

.69

.77

7
12

.91
.85

7
12

.90
.85

7
12

.78
.79

7
10

.88
.85

X. Environmental health
XI. Maintenance and care

1. Environmental health
1. Upkeep and care

Number of items (N items) and internal consistency (a) in different linguistic contexts (compared to the Italian national sample, from Bonaiuto
et al. 2006)

Data analysis
Principal component analyses (PCAs) were run for each of
the eleven scales, to test factorial structure. Factor extraction was carried out on the results emerged in previous
Italian studies (see Bonaiuto et al. 2003, 2006; Fornara
et al. 2010b) and on the screen test output. Cronbachs
alpha tested factor reliability.

Results
Presented cross-cultural data confirm previous Italian
studies outcomes (Bonaiuto et al. 2006).
Table 1 reports a summary of the comparison between
Italian national samples and French, Turkish and Chinese
linguistic contexts samples.
Items number loading on each PREQIs is averagely
similar to the Italian results in the French context, whereas
it is averagely lower in the Turkish and Chinese contexts,
maybe reflecting higher culturallinguistic distance of such
samples from the original one. Cronbachs alpha is
acceptable: between .92 and .70 in the French sample; .84
and .69 in the Turkish sample (except for one factor
scoring .62); and .89 and .68 in the Chinese sample.

In the short version, PREQIs composed of only three or


four items2 make the factorial structures across-samples
confirmation more difficult, considering the samples linguisticcultural variability. Table 2 reports Italian indices
(Fornara et al. 2010b) compared to Swedish, Spanish, and
Iranian outcomes. All 4-item PREQIs, extracted from
monofactorial scales, are confirmed on the new samples
(except in one case, where three items are kept). Multifactorial solutions, though more problematic, keep findings acceptable similarity in the two European countries
compared to Italy (few PREQIs are represented by items
couples), whereas in the Iranian case one single aggregated
indicator clusters the socio-relational features scale, and
one indicator merges building aesthetics and building
density.
Cronbachs alpha values3 are included between .93 and
.67 in the Swedish sample; .89 and .69 in the Spanish
sample; and .93 and .74 in the Iranian sample.

Cronbachs alpha coefficients are dependent on the number of


items, i.e. with the same intercorrelation among the items, the lower
the number of items, the lower is the alpha value.
3
In the case of two-item factors, the significance of Pearsons r
bivariate correlation was considered for testing the factors internal
consistence.

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Table 2 Short version of PREQIs
Scale

PREQI

Italy
(N = 1488)
N items

I. Architectural and town-planning spaces

II. Organization of accessibility and roads

Malmo
(N = 110)
N items

Madrid
(N = 150)
N items

Tabriz
(N = 239)

N items

.74

1. Building aesthetics

.85

.79

.70**

2. Building density

.72

.75

.77

3. Building volume
1. Internal practicability

3
3

.83
.67

3
2

.93
.67**

3
2

.76
.37**

3
2

.80
.54**

2. External connections

.82

.81

.84

.80

III. Green spaces

1. Green areas

.87

.80

.80

.88

IV. People and social relations

1. Security

.78

.92

.85

.87

2. Discretion

.79

.49**

.71

3. Sociability

.73

.83

.72

V. Welfare services
VI. Cultural-recreational services

1. Education services

.79

.31**

.81

.86

2. Social health services

.62

.79

.69

.78

1. Sport services

.82

.88

.89

.91

2. Socio-cultural activities

.71

.68

.21*

.36**

VII. Commercial services

1. Commercial services

.88

.85

.88

.87

VIII. Transportation services

1. Public transport

.81

.67

.79

.75

IX. Pace of life

1. Relaxing/distressing

.71

.71

.71

.84

2. Stimulating/boring

.67

.76

.72

.77

1. Environmental health
1. Upkeep and care

4
4

.86
.70

4
4

.89
.68

4
3

.72
.69

4
3

.89
.93

X. Environmental health
XI. Maintenance and care

Number of items (N items) and internal consistency (a) in different linguistic contexts (compared to the Italian national sample, from Fornara
et al. 2010b)
In two-item indicators, the Pearsons r bivariate correlation is reported (** p \ .01; * p \ .05)

Discussion and conclusion


PREQIs tool aims at providing scientific knowledge for
understanding reciprocal relations among people and their
neighbourhood, helping to offer an evidence-based platform for environmental design or management (Bonaiuto
and Alves 2012). Expanding this effort with cross-cultural
data strengthens the generalizability of such guidelines, and
this becomes even more important in a rapidly globalizing
world, especially as far as the urban contexts and environmentsand their related inhabitants experiencesare
concerned.
Comparative studies in Western and Eastern countries,
using a standard tool, should help to detect cultural differences in the dimensions affecting more general socialpsychological responses such as neighbourhood attachment
and residential satisfaction. This is a relevant issue not only
within environmental psychology and design disciplines,
but also within any approach broadly interested in public
health and politics, since PREQIs are part of the perceived
and actual quality of life and well-being. Building valid
and reliable tools measuring residents neighbourhoods
perceived quality relates to the inhabitants overall quality
of life: PREQIs dimensions basically share the content of

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facets included in the quality of lifes environmental


domain (WHO Group 1994; see also UN-HABITAT 2012).
PREQIs allow to verify relationships between specific
and molar features of perceived environmental quality. For
instance, the French study (Fornara et al. 2015) has tested
the relationships between specific and molar PREQIs (the
latter being the pace of life PREQIs, i.e. stimulating vs.
boring and relaxing vs. distressing). Results showed that
issues of safety, environmental health, and design (aesthetics, upkeep) promote a perception of relaxing
neighbourhood, whereas the presence of activities (social,
cultural, commercial, etc.) promotes a perception of
stimulating neighbourhood (see also Mehta 2009).
Structural equation modelling analyses showed a direct
association of the pace of life PREQIs with the pattern of
neighbourhood attachment, thus confirming previous outcomes (Bonaiuto et al. 1999), whereas other specific
PREQIs had only an indirect effect via these molar
PREQIs.
The importance of an adequate PREQIs pace of life in
predicting neighbourhood attachment emerged in the Chinese and Iranian studies too. In the Chinese study (Mao
et al. 2015), stimulating and relaxing features, besides
socio-relational opportunities, and natural and built

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environment pleasantness, seem to play important roles for


developing place attachment feelings, thus confirming what
found in Italy (Bonaiuto et al. 1999). In the Iranian study
(Bonaiuto et al. 2015), the role of both stimulating versus
boring and relaxing versus distressing PREQIs is confirmed
in predicting neighbourhood attachment, whereas only the
neighbourhood relaxing features significantly predict
residential satisfaction, besides the quality of green areas
and social relations.
About the differences in the PREQIs scales structures
across diverse linguisticcultural contexts, it is to note that,
not surprisingly, the closer the country (in linguisticcultural terms) to the target (i.e. the Italian context), the more
similar is the scales dimensional structure. More specifically, as regards the PREQIs extended version, in the
French context the scales structure emerged as quite
similar to the Italian target, whereas the Chinese context is
the one that showed, for most PREQIs, the lowest numbers
of items, and the Turkish context was in the middle. As
concerns the PREQIs short version, both the European
contexts surveyed (i.e. Spanish and Swedish) showed
dimensional structures that are similar to the Italian one,
whereas the Iranian context presented some differences,
particularly in the social relations area. Thus, all these
outcomes align along a general WesternEastern culture
dimension.
In conclusion, using tools such as PREQIs should
increase a user-centred vision on urban issues in different geographicallinguistic contexts: i.e. EBD knowledge inspiring environmental planning, design, and
management. The improvement of the environmental and
design quality of world cities from the urban residents
point of view fosters their satisfaction and well-being.

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