Welcome to our Monday Meeting series, where we interview people working in, and thinking about the links between urban design and mental health. Today, meet Sandro Galea.
How did you become involved in working in urban mental health?
I have been interested in how cities influence health throughout my academic career, motivated by a recognition that the urban environment was rapidly becoming the most ubiquitous context shared by many of us. Cities shape how we think, feel, and behave, the water we drink, food we eat, air we breathe. It has long seemed to me that cities represent the classic driver of population conditions (including health), which, if understood, can result in the improvement of human health.
What are some of the more interesting pieces of work you have done on urban mental health?
We have long investigated how the urban environment influences common mood-anxiety disorders, showing for example that quality of the built environment is associated with greater incident depression, independent of individual-level factors. Other work has focused on urban social networks, violence, and mental health for example.
Why is making the link between mental health and urban design important?
Designing urban environments to maximize the potential for healthier populations presents an extraordinary opportunity to improve the health of millions who live in cities worldwide.
What's one of your favorite examples of urban design efforts to improve mental health?
I quite like the illustrations provided by Jan Semenza in my book Macrosocial Determinants of Population Health (Chapter 23) about the Sunnyside Piazza project in Oregon.
Where do you see the main opportunities in leveraging urban design to improve mental health?
I think a clear understanding of the elements of urban design that influence health, paired with intervention efforts can be key
What are you currently working on with the World Health Organization?
Our group is leading an analysis of the World Mental Health surveys, working with collaborators worldwide, on understanding how cities and mental health are linked. Data from this project should be emerging shortly.
Do you have a message for those who work in urban design?
I think the link between urban environments and health is promising and could, if well understood, result in improvements in population health that is matched by little else.
Sanity and Urbanity: