SANITY AND URBANITY BLOG
If you are an academic, urban designer, planner, health professional or citymaker, and would like to submit a blog, please see submission guidelines.
The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health is planning to launch a new, biannual journal in early 2016.
This online journal will help address the challenge of there not being many journals explicitly publishing research on the links between urban design and mental health right now. We plan to run thematic editions, the first of which will focus on the concept of 'conscious cities', building on the op-ed that UD/MH fellow Itai Palti recently authored with Moshe Bar in The Guardian; Itai Palti will be our guest editor for this first edition.
A 'conscious city' builds on the idea of a 'smart city', combining data, technology and planning techniques to improve urban mental health and well-being. We are seeking submissions from architects, planners, policymakers, psychiatrists, psychologists, public health practitioners, and others that address one of two questions:
Do you have a relevant research paper, case study, review, comment piece, photograph, book review or other relevant content, (or a good suggestion for the journal's name)? If yes, please submit for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your name, place of work/study, and your current location. See below for technical details. Submission deadline: 11th December
FURTHER DETAILS AND SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
This journal is not currently peer-reviewed. Editorial decisions will be made by Layla McCay (UD/MH Director) and Itai Palti (UD/MH Fellow and Guest Editor of the edition). The journal will be open-access. The style of writing and terminology should be clear, succinct, interesting, and accessible to multi-disciplinary professionals including scientists, psychologists, architects, planners, interior designers, planners, policymakers, etc.
Research papers: up to 4,000 words (and note we value succinct writing). Please include a 200-300 word abstract including introduction, methods, results, conclusion, and a short comment on what your findings mean practically for those working in urban design/mental health. Please include 1-3 relevant photographs (with description and any attributions). Please ensure your paper is fully referenced, with a link associated with each reference.
Comment pieces/op-eds: up to 600 words, including photographs where relevant.
Case studies: up to 300 words, and please include 1-3 photographs (with description and any attributions)
Book reviews: up to 300 words
Other: please get in touch with us to discuss format of other article types
by Layla McCay, UD/MH Director
EVENT REPORT: an interesting research event launching a series of discussions on feeling good in public spaces, hosted by the UK's ARCC Network at the Wellcome Trust in London, 18th November 2015.
It is unusual to attend an event that is specifically focused on the nexus of urban design and mental health. All too often in discussions about how urban design can improve health and wellbeing, the focus is on physical health, specifically on active cities. Of course physical activity can have great impact on mental health, but when it comes to a specific focus on mental health opportunities, in the words of one urban planner, ‘we haven’t a clue’.
It was therefore particularly interesting that the UK Climate Impacts Programme chose to host the first in a series of discussions focused on that very question, with the inaugural event kicking off at the Wellcome Trust in London on 18th November 2015. An audience that included designers, planners, developers, academics, and health professionals gathered for a fascinating and diverse series of talks.
Georgina Hosang from Goldsmiths, University of London summarized the links between urban life and mental health, highlighting the differences in prevalence of various mental illnesses in urban versus rural areas in the UK, highlighting increased urban rates of depression, alcohol and substance dependence, and schizophrenia. In particular, she highlighted the need for for urban designers and planners to help create spaces in the city that increase social capital, a key factor that reduces the risk of developing mental disorders. She highlighted the London Mood Project, using mobile phones to map people’s mood in different geographical locations in London. If you’re in London, why not download the app and get involved.
Rhiannon Corcoran from the University of Liverpool started the discussion of how to measure and understand the implicit and explicit effects of urban places on peoples’ feelings, thoughts and behaviour (slides). She showcased the Prosocial Space Programme and introduced research that measured people’s responses to photographs of different types of urban spaces, anticipation of threat as they walked through various areas of a city, and surveys of what people felt made a positive place to live. A different method of measuring the effect of people’s interactions with the urban environment on their mental state was discussed by Panos Mavros from the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL, who has interestingly been using portable EEG machines to measure people’s brainwaves as they walked around urban streets (slides).
Antonio Caperna from the International Society for Biourbanism talked us through evolutionary theories for biourbanism (slides). His theories of why humans respond positively to nature were based on the brain’s affinity to the viewing of fractal patterns (naturally occurring, complex patterns found in nature), and he argued that architecture should reflect this inherent affinity. He argued that throughout history, the body has evolved itself to its environment, and current adaptations to urban life include stress, fear, anxiety and aggression, and that we can employ principles of biophilia in urban design to enhance human interaction with the built environment.
From the perspective of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, my focus was on why mental health has been sidelined in urban design discussions, prioritisation and investment. In my view (summarised in this New Statesman op-ed) a combination of stigma, concerns about the complexity of the causative factors of mental illnesses, and a vicious cycle of non-prioritisation have led to mental health becoming the Cinderella of urban design and health integration. I highlighted key areas that we believe hold particular potential for urban design in improving mental health and would benefit from further research (for more detail, see slides):
To take mental health to the ‘urban design ball’, we must not ask just what urban design can do for mental health, but what we can do to increase the knowledge, data, profile, prioritisation, and implementation of mental health improvement as part of urban design. It must be a matter of researchers, urban designers, planners, policymakers, engineers, and public health professionals explicitly asking that question when developing their plans and projects.
One major theme from this event was the challenge of accessing and translating high quality research into practical urban design: “we need evidence to back up our hunches” when it comes to mental health promotion through urban design. We must undertake, publish and share more research and experience, and find ways to translate all this information and experience into practical, evidence-based guidelines, while guarding against a one-size-fits-all approach.
Mental health can and should be at the urban design ball. This is why the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health is planning the launch of a new journal (call for papers out now), and is publishing research, ideas, and case studies on this Sanity and Urbanity blog (submit yours) to increase the discussions, research, and people’s access to the research. We are planning discussions, consultations, and guideline development. That’s what we’re doing. As a designer, policymaker, planner, health practitioner, engineer, researcher… what will you do to help get Cinderella to the ball?
UD/MH slides from the event:
See all the slides from the event here.
Sophie Gleizes an Urban Geographer and policy practitioner now working at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, launches a new UD/MH series on traumascapes, urban design and mental health.
Take a moment and think about your personal mental map of a city you are familiar with, one you may have known for a while. Are there places you avoid more than others because of some negative association? Do any places in your neighbourhood cause distress for you? Have you ever felt vulnerable in your urban environment?
We project emotions, memories or ideas onto particular places which influence our decisions to visit them or not, and how we feel when we get there. This means the imagined and symbolic attributes of a place are an important key to understanding people’s psychological responses to their setting. Geographical frameworks offer valuable insights on how place and space affect the wellbeing of city residents, helping us understand ‘emotional and psychological responses to places and their significance for well-being,’ according to health geographer Sarah Curtis.
One feature of a healthy urban community looks at whether its members experience a sense of belonging and ease where they live. That said, what ought to be done when people undergo a troubled relationship with a place, potentially jeopardizing their happiness or mental health?
Some places seem to be keepers of memories that trigger distress, shame, fear or sadness, particularly those that have formed the stage for a traumatic event such as urban violence, natural disasters, military conflicts or terrorist attacks.
According to the editors of Post-Traumatic Urbanism, an urban trauma describes ‘a condition where conflict or catastrophe has disrupted and damaged not only the physical environment and infrastructure of a city, but also the social and cultural networks’. Maria Turmakin coined the term ‘traumascapes’ to denote spaces that still bear wounds from a traumatic incident, both in their physical state and in their inhabitants’ minds. A traumatic incident dislocates the continuity of the “lived and imagined landscape” of the city. It disturbs places at the core of our ‘emotional ecosystems’: they are no longer, and never will be, the same again. Displacement and damage spread confusion in people’s mental maps of a city, as victims lose literal or mental sight of landmarks. A physically hurt environment has real emotional impacts on remaining inhabitants, with related consequences for community resilience. We cannot but think, for instance, of the physical blow of the fall of the Twin Towers in New York City on 9/11/2001, which not only has left a vacuum in the urban fabric, but also generated deep feelings including insecurity, distress, horror, and vulnerability among city residents, blurring the perceived boundaries between "safe" and "threatening" places. These feelings have been brutally reactivated during the Paris attacks on 13th November 2015. Even though the physical damage in Paris was lower than in New York, profound wounds have been left in our imagined landscape of the city.
Reconstructing place – restoring its familiarity – is therefore crucial in the process of healing from trauma. Urban geographers, for instance, are interested in how city dwellers, visitors and designers process this disruption and adjust (or not) to the new situation. Urban designers and city-makers alone may have inadequate competencies and insights for handling such complex, locally sensitive issues This seems to be a responsibility best shared by different actors (residents, academics, artists, etc.).
To help understand the issues and urban design opportunities in the complex field of traumascapes, my upcoming series of op-eds will particularly focus on several places in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a post-traumatic city besieged for four years during the war of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. During the siege, the physical urban space where people were dwelling was subject to a brutality conceptualised as “urbicide” – the murder of a city. In 2014, I conducted research in Sarajevo that to identify how different groups of people process traumatic memories, and understand what that showed about their collective and individual identities relating to a place.
The ruins of a bombed hotel on Mount Trebevic, a former popular recreation area near Sarajevo.
Photo by author, 2014.
Traumas are not only contained in a place and an event, but also in the ways they are lived and represented across time. Places are endlessly reinterpreted in power struggles and through (in)formal negotiations over their meaning and representation. Deliberately or not, planning decisions can impede communities’ ability to process extremely stressful events in their history by maintaining a sense of trauma associated to a place. This is all too often visible in Sarajevo’s urban built environment, parts of which remain derelict or in ruins. In this vein, places can serve as powerful tools for furthering the political vision of certain groups or institutions. Urban design challenges are thus particularly acute in a country where inter-ethnic issues remain sensitive. There is a widely held interest in how to achieve healing without forgetting traumatic episodes: similarly, we must ask how urban planners and policy makers can engage with traumatic places while taking into account a plurality of publics and generations.
This is the first in a series of op-eds intended to inform designers, planners, policy makers and anyone interested in questions of trauma, resilience and place-making from a social scientific and geographic perspective. Taking a qualitative approach, these insights highlight the complexity of ‘senses of places’ and practices relating to ‘traumatized’ built environments. This leads us to observe the difficulty of designing projects that effectively respond to the various needs of different individuals and communities.
This series claims no straightforward guideline for practice. The site of trauma is a particularly challenging object, insofar as there exists no simple, universal solution. There may be larger issues at stake, such as post-conflict peacebuilding that includes institution-building, civil society regeneration, etc. As we will see, responses to these spaces vary in terms of perceptions, cognition, personal histories and resilience, as well as the embodied experience of the place in the moment.
Lastly, at a time when our everyday mental maps seem increasingly vulnerable to the eruption of shock and violence, it is crucial to develop knowledge of the effect of trauma on cities and their various realities in order to develop appropriate and effective solutions.
As this traumascapes series proceeds, I will be discussing:
About the author
The 13th International Conference on Urban Health is taking place from April 1-4, 2016 in San Francisco, USA, and they are currently calling for abstracts. This conference, running with the Symposium on Geography and Urban Health, is one of the most prominent urban health events globally, and this year's theme is 'Place and Health'. At the launch event of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, Yonette Thomas, the conference Chair, spoke of how they had received so few submissions that focused on mental health that at the most recent conference (and those that they had received could not manage the cost/logistics to attend the conference), they had to cancel that panel (watch the video below).
This year the conference organizers state:
We welcome national and international scholars, educators, practitioners, policymakers, and institutions in health and related sectors to (i) share findings, methodologies, and technologies and (ii) to strengthen and create research and education collaborations focusing on the urban environment as an important “place” in population health research, interventions, and policies."
Do you have an interesting research project that might make a good submission? Let's see more mental health-focused presentations this year. Submit before December 8th.
Topics that may be of particular interest:
Symposium on Geography and Urban Health
Research Collaborations: Scientific collaborations in geography and urban health, Urban health and heath geography, Collaborating to advance global urban health policy
Environmental Health: Disease mapping, Assessment of the impact of environmental exposures on health, Exposure monitoring utilizing real-time GPS/GIS methods, Disease ecologies
Behaviors: Mobilities and health, Spatial analysis of substance abuse and treatment, Social environments and mental health
Healthcare Service: Health disparities and inequalities, Global health research and public health initiatives
Methodologies and technologies: Methodological issues in health research, Spatial uncertainties in health studies, CyberGIS and high performance computing in health studies, Geospatial big data and health, Crowd sourcing of geospatial data for health research, Health and global health service delivery initiatives
International Conference on Urban Health
Urbanization AND Health: what interactions? New paradigms, concepts, methods, and tools, Disciplinary advances vs inter-disciplinarity: what challenges?, Interest of comparative approaches: why, how?, Research and action
Urban Health at the intersection of urban environment, social determinants and places: Urbanization and Health disparities, inequalities and inequities, Specific risks factors in urban context
Urban Environments: what specificities? Urban Environments as places of demographic, epidemiologic, nutritional and health transitions?, Globalization, migration and urban health
Urbanism, Health and Wellbeing: Built environment, Pollution: air, noise, etc, Transportation, Green spaces, sport
Health indicators, spatial analysis and mapping: new tools, new methods: Spatial analysis: interest, conditions and limits, Mapping Disease: areas at risks, cluster, diffusion, etc.
Research and action: Collaboration; interaction of researchers; stakeholders, Setting and development of priorities, Assessment and evaluation: ongoing; process and outcome/impact
Urban health policies: Governance and policy frameworks, Health in all policies, A culture of evaluation: why, how?, Capacity building: infrastructure; training in & researching urban health & health geography
Sanity and Urbanity: