Urban Design and Mental Health

  • Layla McCayEmail author
  • Ingrid Bremer
  • Tarik Endale
  • Marjia Jannati
  • Jihyun Yi
Living reference work entry
Part of the Mental Health and Illness Worldwide book series (MHIW)


Physical and social environments can affect our mental health. With increasing numbers of people living in cities, public mental health is now expanding beyond the remit of psychiatrists and psychologists. Designing to support and improve mental health has not always been an obvious priority for citymakers, even as they begin to focus on physical health – though in fact perhaps some of the greatest potential for their impact lies with mental health. Policymakers, urban planners, architects, engineers, transport specialists, developers, and others impact on mental health through their contributions to the design and delivery of the urban built environment. This chapter discusses key opportunities for smart urban design to help promote good mental health, prevent illness, and support people who have mental health challenges. We focus on green space, active space, prosocial space, and safe space across the lifespan, from ensuring safe and local play opportunities for children to empowering older people to socialize and safely navigate around their neighborhoods. Citymakers can consciously seize opportunities for sustainable improvement of population mental health, putting the research into action through policies, plans, design, development, and management. Meanwhile, more research – and its funding – is needed to realize the opportunities in this high impact field.


Mental health Urban City Architecture Urban planning Design 


  1. Alcock I, White MP, Wheeler BW, Fleming LE, Deplege MH (2014) Longitudinal effects on mental health of moving to greener and less green urban areas. Environ Sci Technol 48:1247–1255CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Aminzadeh B, Afshar D (2004) Urban parks and addiction. J Urban Des 9(1):73–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aneshensel CS, Sucoff C (1996) The neighborhood context of adolescent mental health. J Health Soc Behav 37(4):293–310CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Berke EM, Gottlieb LM, Moudon AV, Larson EB (2007) Protective association between neighborhood walkability and depression in older men. J Am Geriatr Soc 55(4):526–533CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bernstein KT, Galea S, Ahern J, Tracy M, Vlahov D (2007) The built environment and alcohol consumption in urban neighborhoods. Drug Alcohol Depend 91(2–3):244–252CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Chan A, Malhotra C, Malhotra R, Østbye T (2011) Living arrangements, social networks and depressive symptoms among older men and women in Singapore. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 26:630–639CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Christian TJ (2012) Automobile commuting duration and the quantity of time spent with spouse, children, and friends. Prev Med 55(3):215–218CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark C, Myron R, Stansfeld S, Candy B (2006) A systematic review on the effect of the built and physical environment on mental health. J Public Ment Health 6(2):14–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crouche K, Meyers L, Bretherton J (2007) The links between greenspace and health: a critical literature review. Available via Greenspace Scotland. Accessed 24 May 2016
  10. Dannenberg AL et al (2003) The impact of community design and land-use choices on public health: a scientific research agenda. Am J Public Health 93(9):1500–1508CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. de Vries S, van Dillen SME, Groenewegen PP, Spreeuwenberg P (2013) Streetscape greenery and health: stress, social cohesion and physical activity as mediators. Soc Sci Med 94:26–33CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Epstein DH, Tyburski M, Craig IM, Phillips KA, Michelle L, Vahabzadeh M, Preston KL (2014) Real-time tracking of neighborhood surroundings and mood in urban drug misusers: application of a new method to study behavior in its geographical context. Drug Alcohol Depend 134:1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Evans GW (2003) The built environment and mental health. J Urban Health: Bull N Y Acad Med 80:4Google Scholar
  14. Fan Y, Das K, Chen Q (2011) Neighborhood green, social support, physical activity, and stress: assessing the cumulative impact. Health Place 17:1202–1211CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Fong G, Frost D, Stansfeld S (2001) Road rage: a psychiatric phenomenon? Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 36(6):277CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Forbes DA, Morgan D, Janzen BL (2006) Rural and urban canadians with dementia: use of health care services. Can J Aging 26:321–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Francis J, Wood LJ, Knuiman M et al (2012) Quality or quantity? Exploring the relationship between public open space attributes and mental health in Perth, Western Australia. Soc Sci Med 74:1570–1577CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Garin N, Olaya B, Miret M, Ayuso-mateos JL, Power M, Bucciarelli P, Haro JM (2014) Built environment and elderly population health: a comprehensive literature review. Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health 10:103–115CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Gehl J (2011) Cities for people. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  20. Grahn P, Stigsdotter UA (2003) Landscape planning and stress. Urban For Urban Green 2(1):1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hansson E et al (2011) Relationship between commuting and health outcomes in a cross-sectional population survey in southern Sweden. BMC Public Health 11:834CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. Hartig T (2008) Green space, psychological restoration, and health inequality. Lancet 372:1614–1615CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Hembree C, Galea S, Ahern J, Tracy M, Piper TM, Miller J, Tardiff KJ (2005) The urban built environment and overdose mortality in New York City neighborhoods. Health Place 11:147–156CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Hong JY, Jeon JY (2013) Designing sound and visual components for enhancement of urban soundscapes. J Acoust Soc Am 134:2026–2036CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Ichihashi H, Watanabe R, Kojima M (2000) Mental effects of street planting on pedestrians and drivers. J Jpn Inst Landscape Arch 63(5):795–798CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jackson RJ (2003) The impact of the built environment on health: an emerging field. Am J Public Health 93(9):1382–1384CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Jozaghi E (2012) “a little heaven in hell”: the role of a supervised injection facility in transforming place. Urban Geogr 33(6):1–19Google Scholar
  28. Kaplan R, Kaplan S (1989) The experience of nature. A psychological perspective. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  29. Kuo FE, Faber Taylor A (2004) A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study. Am J Public Health 94(9):1580–1586CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  30. Lai DWL, Guo A (2011) Gender differences in depressive symptoms of aging Chinese in urban Jiangsu in China. Clin Gerontol 34(3):190–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Livingston M, Chikritzhs T, Room R (2007) Changing the density of alcohol outlets to reduce alcohol-related problems. Drug Alcohol Rev 26(5):557–566CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Mair C, Roux AVD, Galea S (2008) Are neighbourhood characteristics associated with depressive symptoms? A review of evidence. J Epidemiol Community Health 62(11):940–946PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Mitchell L, Burton E (2006) Neighbourhoods for life: designing dementia-friendly outdoor environments. Qual Ageing Older Adults 7(1):26–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Morgan AJ, Parker AG, Alvarez M, Jimenez AF, Jorm AF (2013) Exercise and mental health: an exercise and sports science Australia commissioned review. JEP Online 16(4):64–73Google Scholar
  35. Murphy A, Roberts B, Ploubidis GB, Stickley A, McKee M (2014) Using multi-level data to estimate the effect of an “alcogenic” environment on hazardous alcohol consumption in the former soviet union. Health Place 27:205–211CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Nielson TS, Hanson KB (2007) Do green areas affect health? Results from a Danish survey on the use of green areas and health indicators. Health Place 13(4):839–850CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Orban E, McDonald K, Sutcliffe R et al (2015) Residential road traffic noise and high depressive symptoms after five years of follow-up: results from the Heinz Nixdorf recall study. Environ Health Perspect 124:5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Peen J, Schoevers RA, Beekman AT, Dekker J (2010) The current status of urban-rural differences in psychiatric disorders. Acta Psychiatr Scand 121:84–93CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Pereira G, Wood L, Foster S, Haggar F (2013) Access to alcohol outlets, alcohol consumption and mental health. PLoS One 8(1):e53461CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Pheasant RJ, Fisher MN, Watts GR, Whitaker DJ, Horoshenkov KV (2010) The importance of auditory-visual interaction in the construction of ‘tranquil space’. J Environ Psychol 30:501–509CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Saarloos D, Alfonso H, Giles-Corti B, Middleton N, Almeida OP (2011) The built environment and depression in later life: the health in men study. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 19(5):461–470CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Sciallo WG, Alexander G, Farrell KP (1992) Lead exposure and child behavior. Am J Public Health 82(10):1356–1360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stathopoulou G, Powers MB, Berry AC, Smits JAJ, Otto MW (2006) Exercise interventions for mental health: a quantitative and qualitative review. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 13:179–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Stewart R, Prince M, Harwood R, Whitley R, Mann A (2002) Quality of accommodation and risk of depression in later life: an analysis of prospective data from the gospel oak project. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 17(12):1091–1098CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Sugiyama T, Leslie E, Giles-Corti B, Owen N (2008) Associations of neighbourhood greenness with physical and mental health: do walking, social coherence and local social interaction explain the relationships? J Epidemiol Community Health 62:e9CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Sygna K et al (2014) Road traffic noise, sleep and mental health. Environ Res 131:17–24CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Szapocznik J, Mason CA, Brown SC, Lombard JL, Martinez F, Newman FL, Spokane AR (2009) The relationship of built environment to social behaviors and mental health in Hispanic elders: the role of “eyes on the street”. J Gerontol B 64(2):234–246Google Scholar
  48. Taylor MS, Wheeler BW, White MP, Economou T, Osborne NJ (2015) Research note: urban street tree density and antidepressant prescription rates – a cross-sectional study in London, UK. Landsc Urban Plan 136:174–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ulrich RS (1983) Aesthetic and affective responses to natural environment. In: Altman I, Wohlwill J (eds) Behaviour and the natural environment. Plenum Press, New York, pp p85–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. White MP, Alcock I, Wheeler BW, Depledge MH (2013) Would you be happier living in a greener urban area? A fixed-effects analysis of panel data. Psychol Sci 24(6):920–928CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Whiteford HA, Degenhardt L et al (2013) Global burden of disease attributable to mental and substance use disorders: findings from the global burden of disease study 2010. Lancet 382(9904):1575–1586CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Wilson EO (1984) Biophilia – the human bond with other species. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Layla McCay
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Ingrid Bremer
    • 3
  • Tarik Endale
    • 3
  • Marjia Jannati
    • 3
  • Jihyun Yi
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Urban Design and Mental HealthLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Global Health EntrepreneurshipTokyo Medical and Dental UniversityTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Department of International HealthGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations