Urban Design and Wellbeing

We could start by presenting some statistics about how busier and more stressed we are, but we all know how we feel, and we need only turn on our TV’s to watch shows turning losing weight into a competitive game or see ads that promote a 'new formula' health pill that will help us get a better night’s sleep; to see other people are feeling it too.

Urban Design and wellbeing is not a new concept. Just a quick google search will yield a number of results on the topic. There are so many ways in which urban design can contribute to wellbeing (far too much to discuss here): social interaction – creating hubs were people can meet; flexible spaces that allow passive and active recreation, but being creatures of habit and unless the alternative is easier, then most of us probably won’t do it.

When it comes to looking after ourselves some people do a great job, others not so much, and often you hear I just don't have enough time. But how much time do we really need to feel just a little better? Well maybe not as much time as we thought and even effort:

"Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell."

Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety. One of the most intriguing areas of current research is the impact of nature on general wellbeing. In one study in Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced.

Other studies by Ulrich, Kim, and Cervinka show that time in nature or scenes of nature are associated with a positive mood, and psychological wellbeing" 1

So, what can we do as designers? Invest in the little stuff. Land being so valuable and not all development having access to 'nature' we can focus on the environment immediate to where we live. Investing in parks, buying into walkability, making verges a littler wider, more street trees (or at least making sure they survive the building phase). Instead of trying to make people walk 400m to a park before getting any benefit of nature, greet them at door and make part of wellbeing part of their journey.

When thinking of your next development; whether you are a designer, developer or assessor, picture yourself in the space.

Just a local street, and think about what would make it better, even if it was one small (green living) thing.

Contact: Kerry Saron (Senior Urban Designer)

If you'd like to share the latest issue of the In The Know newsletter, click the link.