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Good urbanism for good mental health

Tonight, a frazzled friend told me that, "it's sad, but my mental health is so dependent on good friends, and sunlight, and cardiovascular activity." 

I shared with Jenn that really, everyone has those needs, she just happens to be aware of it!  What a profound set of criteria she uttered.

I could pontificate on this subject on a number of levels, but from the standpoint of an urban designer, our goal should be to create places conducive to making friends, experiencing sunlight, and engaging in cardiovascular activity.

How might this be accomplished in the built environment?

1) Making friends: create places where people cross paths, on foot.  Co-locate common amenities together Create places conducive to habit and ritual. Create places to "hang out."  Loitering encouraged.

2) Sunlight: plenty of studies now show the benefits of exposure to daylight. It's been less than a century that we have been so dependent on electricity, and fluorescent lights in particular.  Not that long ago, all buildings were designed for daylight. Factories with their sawtooth roofs, narrow office buildings with transoms allowing light to pass through, and courtyard housing.  I'm told that in Germany, there are actually regulations requiring access to daylight for employees.

3) Cardiovascular activity: it's no longer a secret that America's becoming obese and diabetic, and the CDC has jumped on the bandwagon promoting walkable communities.  In addition to better planning for a walkable lifestyle, "park once" shopping, and neighborhood parks, organizations like YMCA's and churches (past clients of mine) need to be more intentional about how they site their buildings. Ideally, these facilities should NOT locate their new facility on a greenfield site amidst a sea of parking.  However, when they ARE building in new neighborhoods, every effort should be made to offer easy pedestrian linkage to adjacent residential or commercial development. 


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