With an increasing majority of the global population living in cities, the question of urban public health is expanding far beyond its traditional practitioners.
Urban planners, designers and developers are increasingly being asked how their plans and projects actively improve people’s health and wellbeing. But when answering that question, many currently overlook the very category of urban health that they might most effectively impact: mental health.
Much of the focus at the nexus of health and design at the moment is on the physical health risks – most especially those associated with our often-sedentary lifestyle, which can contribute to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like heart disease and diabetes. This often means designing built environments that nudge people to be more physically active. But opportunities for health promotion extend beyond physical activity: the World Health Organisation defines health as a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing.
In fact globally mental health disorders cause more disability than any other NCD. This is particularly true in cities, where our risk of having depression increases by 40 per cent, an anxiety disorder by 20 per cent, and the risk of schizophrenia doubles.
With the huge impact of mental disorders on people’s health and wellbeing, and the increased mental health risk of that comes simply from living in a city, you might think that mental health would be an urban health priority. In fact, few policies or recommendations for healthy urban environments address mental health in any depth.
There are many opportunities to improve population mental health through urban design. We can create places where people feel safe and confident. We can reduce noise to improve sleep. We can develop neighbourhoods that promote social interaction and belonging, while delivering privacy and security. We can reduce stress associated with commuting. We can design daily encounters with nature. And there are many more options currently being explored.
The 8th International Urban Design Conference will be held at the Sofitel Brisbane from Monday 16 November to Wednesday 18 November 2015. This years’ theme titled Empowering Change: Transformative Innovations and Projects will focus on inspirational changes in urban environments.
Keynote Bio: Professor NG Yan Yung Edward is Professor of Architecture in the School of Architecture of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). He is the first incumbent of the Yao Ling Sun Endowed Chair in Architecture.
He obtained his doctoral degree from the University of Cambridge. He worked as an architect before becoming a professor. He specializes in Green Building, Environmental and Sustainable Design, and Urban Climatology for City Planning.
He is now working with the governments and agencies in Singapore and Macau, as well as a number of Chinese cities, on Urban Climatic Maps. Among many of his research interests, he is collaborating with public health colleagues to investigate the impact of city design and climate change on urban living.
Professor Ng has published over 400 papers and 3 books. He has twice received the International Award from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). He has also twice been honoured by the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Jury Commendation for Innovation Award. He was the recipient of the 2010 Red Cross Humanitarian Award and was named as one of the “Asian of the Year” in 2011.