Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health: New research and case studies on urban design and mental health

Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health: New research and case studies on urban design and mental health

Summary of Edition 5 of the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health

There is an old Scottish folk song that I sang as a child called the 'Jeelie piece song'. That's Scots for the 'jam sandwich song'. The Jeelie Piece song, originally by folk performer Adam McNaughton, is about the effects on play of a child's family moving to live in a tower block. It refers to the practical difficulties in parents tossing the eponymous 'jeelie piece' (jam sandwich) down to their children at lunch time, so they could continue playing with their friends - a convenience of living on the ground floor. The song implies that the difficulty of grabbing lunch while playing, created by the height of the child's home above their play area, obliges them to either skip lunch, or skip going out to play with their friends. The song ends with the children planning to march for their 'civil rights'. 

The Jeelie piece song has resonance for Edition 5 of the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health, published this month. Everyone's built environment affects their behaviour, but what does that mean for play - and what, in turn, does that mean for mental health? Edition 5 looks at the links between play and mental wellbeing, with an interesting case study from Copenhagen, and a focus on the impact of high rise living on children's play. On the topic of young people's mental wellbeing, read an interesting case study from New York City where an innovative pilot project involved built environment projects in fifteen public high schools with defined goals of promoting or improving student mental health. The ideas around urban design for young people’s mental health and wellbeing are brought together with a personal reflection from a town planner on how moving neighbourhood as a child changed his relationship to play and still affects his mental health. The complex association between mental wellbeing and human-centred design is discussed in an editorial by Sarah Williams Goldhagen, who has recently authored a book on the subject.

Edition 5 also expands the theme of Play into playing with ideas. A fascinating urban design project to improve mental wellbeing in Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland uses five approaches to create safe shared spaces in a location previously associated with sadness and suicide and will be of wide interest. Qazvin, Iran is the setting for thinking about the psychological implications of aesthetics and visual perception in urban design. The journal is also experimenting with a new format where ideas are proposed, and an expert reflects on their application: the concept of behaviour blockchain for cities, and a proposed framework for urban form and mental wellbeing both bring intriguing and inspiring ideas - and critiques. Additional ideas about shaping the public realm for mental wellbeing in this Edition come from Brussels, Belgium and Rohini, India. And an interesting paper applies the concept of 'rootshock' to the displacing effects of urban renewal in Charlotte, USA.

Finally, the urban design and mental health city case study project continues, examining and identifying lessons for and from cities around the world. The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health has developed methodology for these case studies, and for past journal editions, produced city case studies for Tokyo and Hong Kong. Since then, people all over the world have signed up to independently undertake case studies in their own cities. The first of these is Las Vegas, featured this month. If you have an interest in participating, the project is running for another year. Previous case studies, methodology, and current city availability can be found on the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health website here. Edition 6 of the journal will bring a wide range of these diverse city case study reports. 

Acticle by Layla McCay
Photo Credits: Pexels.com (CC)