"Blue Index" Captures Emotional Reactions to Water to Enhance Community Well-being

November 17, 2017
Blue Index will collect citizen-reported data from 30 waterscapes around Austin to form a set of proposed narrative criteria on outdoor space for the City of Austin.
Blue Index

Blue Index is a research project led by Kevin Jeffery, a graduate student in Landscape Architecture.  It focuses on capturing citizens' emotional reactions to water in order to identify the positive effects of water, such as a reduction in anxiety, on an urban community's well-being. 

Sponsored by the Garden Club of America and the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department, Blue Index will collect citizen-reported data from 30 waterscapes around Austin, Texas, including Shoal Creek and Waller Creek beginning in late 2017. Austinites will be able to submit photos and assessments in response to specific psychological questions using a smart device. Data will be collected for 18 months from 30 waterscapes around the city that represent various levels of disturbance. The results of Blue Index will be used to form a set of proposed narrative criteria on outdoor space for the City of Austin to consider adopting to enhance community well-being.

Jeffery wrote about his goals for Blue Index, "This study will harness social science to collect data as justification for environmental sustainability policies as well as infrastructure. I hope to increase the City of Austin’s ability to identify water resources in need of improvement from analyzing the data collected. Blue Index’s goal is to have a positive impact on the behavior and mindset of how we treat the Earth."

At a glance, Blue Index will: 

  • Develop clean water narrative criteria as referenced in the city's Clean Water Act. The Water Quality Standards program (part of CWA) acts as a roadmap for achieving the goals of the Clean Water Act by doing three specific things: designating uses of each water body in the state; establishing numeric, biological, and narrative criteria to protect those uses;and protecting levels of good water quality in waters that already meet their designated uses.
  • Identify the reasons why people like or don't like their community waterscapes to help the City of Austin prioritize waterscapes that need improvement. 
  • Quantify Austinites' perceptions about the water in their city.

Learn more at Bit.Ly/blueindexflyer and in this episode of CityView from the City of Austin.


Summer 2018 Update

As of July 2018, 1,715 photos accompanied by observations of water health, wildlife, vegetation, and emotional response have been collected. The majority of respondents reported feeling a sense of interest, joy, or serenity when next to a body of water.

Blue Index’s lead coordinator, Kevin Jeffery, completed his second year as a graduate student in Landscape Architecture and will be starting his final year this fall. When he is not in class, Jeffery is presenting his project to stream and environmental groups around town. In March, Blue Index held three cleanups with UT Austin and project partners in Waller, Barton, and Shoal Creeks. This resulted in thirty-one bags of trash and recyclable items being pulled from the water by forty-nine volunteers. Blue Index will use some of the trash collected in a sustainability-minded public art project later this year.

Blue Index aims to collect 2,600 assessments by the first week of January 2019, when the data collection phase of the project ends. This information will be sorted and analyzed to recommend improvements for the City of Austin’s urban waterscape design and maintenance efforts. 

Blue Index allows participants to pause, reflect, and reconnect with water in an urban context, examining how important water is to our health and overall well-being. Its goal is to use qualitative observational data to better inform water management practices. Join Kevin and Blue Index as they expand the conversation for responsible waterscape management for both natural and artificial urban waterways. Download a digital flyer and map at bit.ly/blueindexflyer