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The future of cities is one that considers the physical and psychological impact that the built environment has on our wellbeing. While we are increasingly considering the physical health of residents in the planning and design of our urban environments, we are less familiar with planning for mental health.

Growing research in the field of psychology and neuroscience indicates that our buildings and spaces shape us and have significant psychological and emotional impacts. The research is vast. This is not an exhaustive list but some inspiration for building our future cities and how we want to live in them.

Research shows that:

  • urban green spaces help to boost mental and physical health

  • street lighting helps to reduce anxiety and fear

  • public spaces that help to encourage pro-social interactions not only contribute to a sense of place but also reduce feelings of isolation that are often prevalent in big cities

  • more visual complexity of spaces – the geometry and arrangement of spaces – can help us to feel calm

  • tree lined streets not only result in positive emotional impact but can also have positive economic impact in an area

  • noise and sound pollution has negative short and long term impacts

  • access to arts and culture in the public realm has positive emotional and social impacts colour plays a significant role in our emotional health, having calming or positive emotional impact

  • access to places for play or integration of playfulness within the urban fabric has positive impacts on children’s wellbeing and development (and adults too!)

  • improving wayfinding and people’s navigation around cities reduces stress and anxiety

You get the point. The research is there, but it largely remains in silos. City building should be increasingly interdisciplinary, combining urban design, planning and architecture with psychology and neuroscience. Lessons from the cognitive sciences should actively influence city building in how we build policy and strategies, program and design spaces and buildings, and even the material and colour used in spaces. There is the potential to study and monitor how our urban environments and structures are impacting us, our mood and mental state, and to take steps towards building healthier and happier cities. Building more responsive and resilient cities. Toronto should be putting mental wellbeing at the centre of its planning strategies.