The idea that there is a strong link between the health and wellbeing of a community and the architectural environment in which they live is not a new one. Designing new towns or communities with the intention of improving the health of the residents has been part of the ethos of the planning system since the first town and country planning act made it onto the statute books in the 1940s.
Recently, however, the idea that we can deliberately design new developments to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles appears to have had a resurgence. Last year saw the launch of the NHS's "Healthy New Towns" initiative (www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/innovation/healthy-new-towns); which saw them partnering with ten development companies to "dramatically improve population health, and integrate health and care services" in the selected development sites. The Town and Country Planning Association also has a long running initiative aimed at "Reuniting Health with Planning".
Happy City, however, has taken this one step further contending that good urban design can also make people happier, kinder and more altruistic. In a really interesting article from the Guardian, the team at Happy City suggests that it might actually be possible to design more community spirit into a new development. Possible steps that might achieve this are said to include "breaking up imposing superblocks, investing in quiet streets that are safe and friendly for pedestrians and creating a village heart to which residents could walk and shop".
I haven't looked into the research behind Happy City and their well-being campaign, but I am inclined to hope that there is something in it. I have spent enough time commuting in major cities to believe that a little 'designed in happiness' could go along way!
To beat the sceptics, the team at Happy City gathers evidence from psychology, neuroscience, public health and behavioural economics. They know that hospital patients who can see trees through their bedside windows heal faster than those who only see brick walls. They know that commuters at rush hour suffer more anxiety than fighter pilots or riot police facing angry mobs. They even know that the friendliest front gardens are precisely 10.6ft deep. ..... But the real problem is that this kind of evidence rarely makes it outside academia. With one foot in research and another in urban planning, Happy City tries to bridge the gap between them. It is a consultancy, advising local governments, developers and any other organisations that have control over how cities grow, including the World Health Organisation.