My book, Restorative Cities: Urban Design for Mental Health and Wellbeing, which I co-authored with environmental psychologist Jenny Roe, brings together current research from across different academic specialties, from public health, psychiatry, neuroscience and environmental psychology, to architecture, planning, design, geography and engineering, to explain how and why certain aspects of urban design affect mental health – and to define practical approaches to implementation. We have distilled urban design opportunities for public spaces into seven chapters that make up a new Restorative Cities framework. The principles of this framework can be practically applied to any city at the municipal level, the neighborhood level, or within individual developments.
A restorative environment helps regulate our emotions and promotes recovery from mental fatigue, stress and the demands of everyday life. Perhaps the most well-recognized urban design intervention that can deliver a restorative environment is the effect of nature. The Restorative Cities framework examines how and why the Green City (an urban environment with various types of greenery) and the Blue City (a city with water-based features) promote mental wellbeing. From offices that offer views of nature and full immersion in an urban forest to delivering urban cooling effects and attractive open spaces for recreation and social activities, natural settings offer myriad direct and indirect benefits to mental health.
Natural settings provide a key element of the sensory stimulation that is explored in research on the concept of the Sensory City – the science of how to employ sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste in urban environments to maximize benefits for mental wellbeing. Current urban design tends to favor the sense of sight over the others, but the urban experience should involve full sensory immersion. The Restorative Cities framework provides evidence-based insights on how these opportunities can be unlocked to benefit mental health.