Where do you work, and what exactly do you do?
I’m Assistant Professor of Urban Design at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran. I’ve taught Masters students of urban design for 7 years. Also, I’m managing urban planning and design branch of SAP consulting engineers where in a group, we are doing professional projects all over Iran.
How did you first become interested in researching the link between urban design and mental health?
My research concentration is quality of urban public spaces especially those where people can meet each other, sit, spend time and talk together. That’s why my PhD thesis title is: Finding the Essence of Sustainability in Urban Plazas. Referring to the values of urban public spaces show their direct effects on health: physically and mentally. Pedestrian-based urban spaces can encourage exercise with associated physical health benefits – for example reducing the risk of heart attack, diabetes, colon cancer and bone fractures. They provide a space for formal and informal sports and games. Also they provide opportunities for relaxing, talking to friends, reminding memories, watching urban events, happiness, etc, all of which can have effects on reducing stress and enhancing mental health. Certain quality criteria in urban spaces can introduce close relationships to mental health like vitality, safety, comfort, etc.
Also, one of my favorite courses in the Masters program of urban design which I’ve taught for 7 years is urban design methods and techniques. During these years, I’ve worked on different urban public spaces of Tehran with a number of students and I’ve found interesting local effects of urban public spaces on mental health.
How much interest is there in this subject in Iran?
An increasing interest to the subject can be seen during these two decades. It’s been accompanied with creating new urban public spaces (especially parks) in big cities like Tehran. A number of studies concentrate on the effects of green spaces on mental health which has roots in historical background and beliefs of Iranian people. Also, urban experts in Iran have started mutual research with human sciences experts which provide a new vision in this way.
Can you give any examples of projects in Iran where urban spaces have been designed to help improve mental health?
I think projects which connect urban life to nature have quick effects on mental health in comparison to other urban projects. When such a project provides maximum pedestrian space the effect is accelerating. In my idea on of important urban spaces that designed according to these characteristics is Chitgar artificial lake which opened 2 years ago and it is progress. This project is introducing a new waterfront in Tehran. The combination of water, forest and huge pedestrian area with a great view to the mountains provides a space where people can decrease stress of urban life of Tehran.
Are there other great examples of urban design/mental health projects elsewhere in the world that you find inspiring?
As I mentioned in last question, I'm interested in all projects that connect pedestrian spaces to nature, enhancing mental health. During my travel to Europe this summer I found Copenhagen inspiring in this way where creative waterfront urban spaces like Copenhagen Wave has been designed. Also through visiting Danish Architecture Center plan for creating new urban spaces, I found their organization and products far from other cities.
What research are you currently working on that relates to urban design and mental health?
My background is in quality of urban spaces, and most of my research relates to mental health. For example I published the first paper on the quality assessment of pedestrian streets in Iran 5 years ago. With the cooperation of Ms. Reisemaeili, we studied the first pedestrian street of Tehran with the name of Saf streets. A primary result of the paper demonstrates the mental security of women in this space associated with making the street pedestrianized.
Two of my current research projects are directly related to urban design and mental health. In the first one as an master thesis in cooperation of Mr.Pezeshki and Dr. Elahi (who is psychologist) we have worked on decreasing fear in through urban design guidelines in a unique neighborhood of Tehran based on criminal records. In the theoretical part of research, we have tried to introduce a bridge between the psychological point of to fear and urban spaces. The results are in progress to publish as a book. I‘ve conducted the research by qualitative and quantitative methods.
The second research in cooperation of Ms.Samavati and Dr. Naghdi ( who is sociologist) we’re working on happiness in urban spaces. The case study is the pedestrian zone of Tehran's historic center. The research is in progress and as primary results I can point a model that shows happiness in urban spaces relates to quality of life, quality of urban spaces, urban spaces amenities and personal believes of people. I hope to share the results with the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health as soon as possible.
What are the main challenges you have seen in improving mental health through urban design?
I think the main challenge especially in developing countries is the lack of pedestrian based urban spaces. Cities are dominated by cars and their pollution (air and sound) has bad effects on mental health. Also the lack of good quality urban spaces caused people refuge to personal spaces like houses. This phenomenon instigates internality that declines mental health.
What are the big opportunities in urban design and mental health?
Each country and each city needs healthy people for development. Urban design products like new cities, urban spaces, etc. have direct effects on citizen health. In good quality urban spaces people can feel a sense of satisfaction, central to which is their mental health. I think if urban designers all over the world added 1 square meter to pedestrian areas and green spaces, the enhancement of mental health is several times more than 1 meter, because in everyday life people can feel the effects of urban designers.
What would you like to see the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health achieve?
First, I congratulate on starting this inspiring movement which helps urban designers to be more conscious during urban design process. I like that the Center tries to create a network of specialist with this background all over the world and is publishing the results of their studies. Also this Center encourages close relation of urban designers and human scientists in the way of mutual meetings, conferences, etc.
Which is your favorite city in the world, and why?
Such a difficult question! Each city has the potential to be my favorite. From the mental health point of view I can say Shiraz is my favorite which is the man city of Persian land and also is the city of poem. Although the urban spaces of the city have not developed well during these years, you feel a unique sense in the city that in my idea relates to insight of people to the world. People of Shiraz are very easy going and friendly. They live in the moment and this can be perceived in urban life.
Sanity and Urbanity: