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Search for world's happiest suburb starts in Crace, Canberra

Is Crace the most contented suburb in Canberra, Australia or perhaps the world?

A team of University of Canberra academics is about to find out.

''The Crace Study'' will consider whether the communal design of the new northern suburb will have long-term benefits for residents' health and wellbeing.

The world will be watching, with the World Health Organisation a keen observer of strategies that could be replicated in future suburbs around the globe.

Senior research fellow in the faculty of health Lean O'Brien said Crace, founded in 2009, was chosen for the research because it was designed specifically to promote social interaction and sustainability.

Homes are built around communal and recreational areas and people regularly meet in places such as the communal vegetable garden.


Researchers are also trying to establish whether living in a particular suburban setting can improve social and emotional lives over time.

''We all assume that living in a suburb with good recreational facilities and a connection to the community through communal meeting places would make for a good life, but we want to actually try and prove whether this is the case,'' Dr O'Brien said. ''By having a new suburb that is designed to provide these sorts of communal and sustainable features we can track the new residents and see how living there over time affects them.''

Professor Helen Berry, who leads the university's healthy and sustainable communities research program, said it was a unique project and it was not surprising that it had attracted international interest.

The WHO will use the research in urban design policy in suburbs around the world with Canberra researchers liaising with WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The first survey of the planned five-year longitudinal study began last spring when residents were asked questions including how they spent time at home, how emotionally connected they felt to neighbours, how they rated local facilities, and what physical activities they engaged in.

Survey results already suggest Crace residents are more contented than those who live elsewhere. The first 277 respondents reported they liked the look and feel of the suburb - even though some parts are yet to be built and noisy construction work can be heard regularly.

Compared with those in other suburbs, Crace residents tended to think their homes were more attractive and they were happier to be living in their chosen suburb.

Despite only some of the smaller parks and nature reserves being open last year, nearly all respondents were using open space in some way.

Crace residents were generally healthy and active with nearly 80 per cent reporting little or no trouble with physical health and nearly 60 per cent reporting good mental health ''most or all of the time''.

The study will track whether residents are becoming healthier and happier as Crace grows and more amenities - including bike paths, buses parks, GPs and shops - are completed.

Professor Berry believed the findings would be informative at regional, national and international levels. ''Over time we'll see how changes in the suburb affect the lives of Crace residents and whether they get happier and healthier,'' she said.

And, by happy coincidence, Professor Berry brings a personal perspective to the question - she has bought a house in Crace.

''From my perspective, the experiment is definitely working in terms of my own personal experience of living there. It is wonderful.

''And it is very exciting to think that our research might be used to develop future suburbs around the world.''


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