Where are you originally from, and where do you now live and work?
Originally from Michigan, now live and work in DC by way of Austin, Texas and San Francisco
Which is your favorite city in the world, and why?
San Francisco – the parks, the ocean, the architecture, the proximity to amazing wine, the walkability, the plethora and bars and restaurants, and even the fog!
What sort of work do you do around the intersection of urban design and mental health?
My work involves research at the intersection of urban design and health overall – physical, mental, and social. Currently, I’m working to inform and educate the real estate and land use professions on the importance of designing buildings and communities that promote all of these facets of health.
How did you end up working at this intersection?
As a trained urban planner, I learned about connections between health and the built environment during classes I took for my doctorate. I became very interested in the role that planners, and others outside of the health profession, can play in ensuring that our cities are planned and designed in ways that allow all people to live healthy lifestyles.
What particularly interests you about the link between urban design and mental health?
Designing cities in ways that make living much less stressful. As someone who used to commute by car for nearly 2 hours per day in Texas, being able to live in a place with transportation options was so important to me, from a stress and mental health standpoint. Not having to rely on a car for a commute over the past couple of years and improved both my mental and physical health – I walk more and have much less road rage! Five years ago I couldn’t imagine a day without getting in my car, and now I forget I even have access to one.
Can you describe an example of good urban design that positively impacts mental health?
Parks and green spaces are critically important for mental health, especially in bigger cities. Being able to integrate smaller park spaces throughout cities that allow some respite from all the concrete – Paley Park in New York is one example I like, a very small pocket park in the middle of midtown Manhattan with trees and a water feature that drowns out city noises. You don’t even feel like you’re in New York City!
What sort of challenges do you see in urban design for mental health?
There is still a lot that is unknown about the role of the built environment on mental health, and also there are many indirect factors of the built environment that can impact mental health that may be difficult to address. Because health, and especially mental health, is such a personal construct, it could be a challenge to conduct meaningful research into this area to really get a handle on all of the different aspects of the built environment that impact mental health.
Why do you think people don't focus enough on the link between urban design and mental health?
Mental health is trickier to “solve” than physical health issues, because there are so many different facets of mental health that have different solutions, ranging from stress to serious mental illnesses. It appears more intuitive to focus on how to design cities to get people to be more active, or give them access to healthy food, but we also need to be thinking about the differing needs of all types of urban dwellers.
What would you like to see the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health achieve?
First and foremost, raising awareness of the links between the design of cities and neighborhoods and mental health. There has been so much research on improving cities for physical health, we now need more attention paid to this other critical area of health, especially in terms of making cities—typically noisy, crowded, and stressful—more therapeutic for those who live in them.
Sanity and Urbanity: