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How Urban Design can have an impact on wellbeing and health

Medical News Today shared an article that explains how urban and housing design has a big impact on human health. Everyone should have access to a standard of living adequate for health and well being, this includes housing, clothing, food, social services and others…

“Researchers have shown that adequate housing has intimate links to a person’s physical and mental well-being. According to the Executive Summary of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Housing and Health Guidelines Trusted Source, poorly designed housing can increase the risk of trips, falls, injury, isolation, and stress for older people or people with disabilities. Further, insecure or unaffordable housing can exacerbate stress. Housing that is too hot or cold or exacerbates indoor air pollution can cause respiratory and cardiometabolic issues”.

The Director of the Urban Design Group in London, Robert Huxford, affirms that there is a very close relationship between urban design and health, but the pandemic has brought this concern around housing and infectious diseases back. In a scientific article published by PLOS ONE “researchers found an association between the amount of poor quality housing in a United States county and COVID-19 incidence and mortality”.

Let’s revise some bullet points analyzed on the article:

  • Car development-dependent: Air pollution from road traffic and noise pollution can affect human health. But also, “living in a car-dependent development will impact negatively on people’s ability to exercise and encourage a sedentary lifestyle that easily leads to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. The opportunity to be physically active throughout one’s day-to-day life, such as active transport — walking and cycling — is important to avoid obesity.”

  • Mental Health related to Housing and Urban Design: Urban design issues can have an adverse impact on mental health. “For those who do have a home, the affordability of the home is key, as economic concerns have links to mental health problems; so too is the quality of the housing, including dampness, noise, pests, and overcrowding”. Housing that is safe, adequate, affordable, comfortable and offers privacy can definitely benefit people’s mental health, because it relieves people from concern and preoccupation.

  • Security and Homelesness: Physical conditions of the home, to ensure health, are very important but, security of housing is too. “For Deborah K. Padgett of the Silver School of Social Work in New York, a primary factor that affects the relationship between housing and mental health is homelessness. Global housing instability is due to severe poverty and lack of institutional support for ‘public’ or ‘social’ housing that is affordable”.

  • Inequality: Dr. Layla McCay, Director of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health affirms that “an underlying issue in poor health associated with urban and housing design is wealth inequality”. Housing is intrinsically related to mental and physical health, as well as well being. Wealth is a key factor in this point, because accessing safe, affordable and good quality housing relies on it.

  • Segregation by design: Related to inequality, it was interesting to analyse how during the pandemic mental health problems were triggered since people experienced ‘segregation by design’. This concept explains how people in the same building can live in apartments with completely different design features, creating stigma and exacerbating inequality. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw evidence of housing-related inequalities where some people were able to relax and play in their gardens while others had no outside space; some had good quality local parks, and others had to travel outside their neighborhood to find safe and pleasant green space.”

At MKThink we are also looking at how cities can adapt to our evolving needs over time and how urban spaces are designed considering factors such as wellbeing and safety.


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