As we are living in the era of climate change and the covid pandemic, imbibing upon a chance to enhance our living environment has been the greater need of the present. Navigating the endless meandering traffic jams and pothole-filled roads have been the routine of every person every day. Stuck into the traffic looking around to get away, staring at billboards of alleviating mountains nestled in the wild, serene beaches and sun-filled skies, remind us to escape the dull and boring office walls. Brushing off as just another city life syndrome, urban workers have been experiencing more stress, anxiety, and impatience.

Urban planners and designers have been a part of the development and upliftment of the cities. Even in the good old days, when things were simpler, the design of cities was equivalent to safety and security. While additional research is needed to counter the effects of urbanism, mental health is at the top of the list to exert a huge impact on people.

Effects badly planned cities have on mental health - Sheet1
Scenario of every person every day_ © The Guardian

With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, over 4.2 billion people, along with the changing lifestyle and Urbanization, the possibility of people experiencing mental health problems is bound to increase. When living in cities you see development in infrastructure each day. When the infrastructure tends to become a concrete jungle, it affects the mental health of a person that can cause anxiety. Considering the Indian context, many cities house towers, and skyscrapers, multi-storied buildings with the minimum margin of setbacks causing congestion.   

While living in urban areas or cities, the most essential aspect of well-being lies within the intermediary green spaces. Imagine living within those walls of your house with no trees or plants in sight; many people find that depressing. Another case to ponder upon is living in a society with no gardens or any green space for that matter, being surrounded by concrete buildings; walking down an endless road that leads to a monotonous façade. The mental health of a person gets hampered due to the absence of green spaces or a natural environment in the vicinity.

Effects badly planned cities have on mental health - Sheet2
Urbanization leading to congestion_ © ClickView online

As of today, one household is known to have more than one vehicle. Considering the carbon emission that is released and the amount of air and noise pollution created, the risk for physical health is increasing. Climate change has been in our conversations with people and the need to counter the same has been the need of the hour. The persistence of the need and the pertaining health issues, may it be physical or mental, isolates a person from the daily enjoyment of life. The traffic in cities has been increasing the travel time to get from one place to another and along with that, it is causing irritability and anger issues in many.

Town planning and urban development play an essential role in the functioning of a city. The most sophisticated grids of urban design make the life of man very simple. Say that you are traveling in a city for the first time and it gets difficult to find the directions where you want to reach. You get tired of circling the same block again and again, and you find yourself lost with no sign boards or network on your phone. Mental health does not include only anxiety and depression; but also, frustration, irritation, and tiredness. One cannot function practically while getting lost in cities.

Another aspect of urban design that affects the health of a person, may it be physical or mental, is the implementation of streetscapes. In the times of a pandemic, having wider footpaths to allow for social distancing, adequate amount of light for the streets at night time, seating areas for old people, inculcation of cycle tracks, and safety measures have been the primary concern of the citizens. With the rising population, the issue of overcrowding is leading to an increase in anxiety.

Effects badly planned cities have on mental health - Sheet3
Narrow alleyways reduce safety and induce stress_ © The Conversation

The purpose of city planning seems to be oblivious to some urban planners. Poorly planned urban spaces can lead to less physical activity in people which is the main cause of obesity, weight problems, and cancerous diseases. Research has been known to suggest that a city is more prone to mental health issues than living in rural areas. The very specific aspect of depression is seen to develop anxiety, schizophrenia, loneliness, and mood disorders in many people living in cities.

The environment plays a major role in the cognizance of mental health issues. The aspect of living in safety stresses the mind over non-existent things. Decompressing in a city can be difficult. Higher residential density, pitch dark narrow alleyways, the canyon effect of tall buildings along with fewer places to escape crowds; all of these situations present a lower safety level among residents. Neglected landscape areas, broken facilities can cause chaos to the natural environment leading to several physical and mental health issues. Green interventions in city areas are anticipated to increase the cortisol levels in our bodies and elevate our mood. 

Effects badly planned cities have on mental health - Sheet4
Overcrowding of buildings in a city leading to absence of green areas _© Wikipedia

While living in cities, the social structure of people varies according to their lifestyle. The people that we surround ourselves with and the diversity of the social circle change the way we perceive certain notions. Loneliness, social inequalities, and perceived or actual crime affect our mental health. This technologically advanced world we live in has been known to break bounds. With advanced sciences and technologies, the world is surely progressing affirmatively. Nonetheless, the safety and security that come with these gadgets have been known to affect the mental health of people. The design of urban areas has been developed to make for ease of standard of living. Hence, the management of urban cities is the utmost task for the mental wellbeing of a person.

References:

  1. The Hindu [Online]

Available at: www.thehindu.com

  1. The Conversation [Online]

Available at: https://theconversation.com/

  1. UD/MH – Urban Design Mental Health [Online]

Available at: https://www.urbandesignmentalhealth.com/how-urban-design-can-impact-mental-health.html

Author

Abha Haval is an Architect who has a vivid imagination of this world. She believes that every place has a story to tell and is on a mission to photograph the undiscovered whereabouts of various cities and narrate the story of its existence.

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