David Green leads Perkins+Will’s Cities + Sites practice worldwide. Image Credit: Supplied

From utilising recyclable materials to decreasing carbon footprints, or increasing taxes on junk foods to better health choices for citizens, the world has become more aware of health and wellness considerations. These are also factors prevalent across the world in architecture.

The idea that happiness, or fulfilment, is created more from experience than from material objects is the same notion that suggests how and where a person lives, serves as a significant contributor to their overall experience of life. Today, research indicates city dwellers may be exposed to higher rates of crime, pollution, social isolation and other environmental stressors than those living in more rural areas. Certain studies say urban dwellers can be up to 40 per cent more likely to become depressed and 20 per cent more likely to suffer from anxiety.

However other research indicates urban living is healthier than rural living in many respects. Researchers are using a method called ‘tagging’ to gather information on city living. The extraction of emotional information from user-generated content, using social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, is proving a promising approach. A study by Tokyo-based psychiatrist Layla McCay highlights the types of spaces that should be incorporated into urban designs to support mental health. Her research suggests green spaces can reduce anxiety and improve Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children. Active spaces are an opportunity to promote physical health, which in turn can affect mental health. For instance, spaces designed to encourage exercise on a daily commute can provide major emotional benefits. Of course, social spaces are important as they promote interaction between people and alleviate feelings of isolation. The key to these efforts is projecting outcomes during the design process and tracking the results, which can be analysed to understand the actual health benefits.

Opportunities to promote both physical and mental health must be seized by urban designers, policymakers and planners involved in changing and creating our modern cities. Therefore, one of the key elements in this effort is that designers must analyse statistics, use data and adopt a more logical approach to providing a more complete design methodology.

— David Green leads Perkins+Will’s Cities + Sites practice worldwide