How can we ensure that planning supports mental well-being?

01 Mar 23

Iceni recently received planning permission for Barkingside Yard in Redbridge on behalf of Vistry Partnerships, alongside affordable homes the scheme increased natural surveillance for users of the adjacent listed station, is car-free and provides additional greenery in the form of community allotments.

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Nearly 2 and a half years after the publication of the RTPI’s Mental Health and Town Planning Practice Advice there has been little traction on the inclusion of mental health considerations in planning. As we continue to increase our engagement with the built environment post-pandemic, converting this dialogue into action is critical.

The importance of considering mental health in planning is borne from the proven effect that the built environment has upon our bodies. By adding elements of sensory complexity to our environs through excessive noise, harsh forms, and imposing buildings, our surroundings can impact our daily lives, often without realisation. The amygdala, which is the part of the brain that responds to emotional events, especially threatening ones, shows increased activity in individuals who live in urban environments when compared to those who live in rural areas.

So, what can be done to reduce these negative effects? To further the advice of the RTPI; the built environment needs to ensure it is green, active, safe and pro-social:

  1. Increasing greenery has been proven to lower stress, reduce risks of psychiatric disorder, and stimulate healthy cognitive reactions. Even in small doses, greenery can contribute to the biophilic affect, boosting our mental health through our innate emotional connection to nature.
  2. An active built environment can continue to be encouraged through greater promotion of active modes of transportation. Particular emphasis should be placed on commuters who currently spend 4-10% of their awake time travelling. If active commuting is encouraged it can help to improve ones overall mood and create a sense of achievement, relaxation or release from daily stress. Active travellers tend to be less dissatisfied with their commute or actually enjoy their journey compared to users of public transport who complain about delays which results in stress as well as boredom.
  3.  A safe and pro-social neighbourhood can be encouraged through community building, which can in turn be supported by urban design interventions. A simple example is the encouragement of active frontages, providing natural surveillance to increase feelings of safety. For residential developments, semi-private front gardens allow for residents to maintain a sense of security whilst allowing for social interaction. In the words of planning hero, Jane Jacobs, “people support city life, they give back grace and delight to their neighbourhoods”.

Iceni recently received planning permission for Barkingside Yard in Redbridge on behalf of Vistry Partnerships, alongside affordable homes the scheme increased natural surveillance for users of the adjacent listed station, is car-free and provides additional greenery in the form of community allotments.