The effects of the community design choices we make and the opportunities those choices afford or deny us are only just now beginning to be understood. Such effects not only can influence community members’ physical health but their mental health as well.
Effects on mental health can include both increased stress and cognitive impairment, which in turn can have physical health implications. Some of this increased stress can be caused by long and taxing daily commutes necessitated by development patterns that separate our work or school locations from our homes. This increased commuting-related stress may be related to the perceived increases in the rates of “road rage.”
In addition, researchers have discovered that when some people who are injured or ill are exposed to open, undeveloped land, also known as green space, they recover faster than others who were not exposed. In another study, researchers examined the cognitive functions of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to determine the effect that the children’s surroundings had on learning and their ability to concentrate. The researchers found that exposure to parks and other green spaces improved the children’s ability to focus and concentrate.
Although the link between land use and mental health is not yet completely understood, it is clearly a topic that can affect the overall health of a community.
For more information about mental health and community design, refer to the following resources:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Landscape and Human Health Laboratory
The Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (LHHL) is a multidisciplinary research laboratory dedicated to studying the connection between greenery and human health.
Sullivan WC, Chang CY. Mental health and the built environment. In: Dannenberg AL, Frumkin H, Jackson RL. Making healthy places: designing and building for health, well-being, and sustainability. Washington DC: Island Press, 2011.
Evans GW. The built environment and mental health [PDF - 118 KB]. Journal of Urban Health.80(4):536-555, 2003.
Matsuoka, R & Sullivan, WC. (2011). Urban nature: Human psychological and community health [PDF - 6.31 MB]. In Douglas, I. & Goode, D., Houck, M., & Wang, R. (Eds), The Routledge handbook of urban ecology, Taylor and Francis, Oxford. P. 408-423.
Sullivan, WC. (2005). Nature at home: An evolutionary perspective. In P. Barlett (Ed.), Urban Place: Reconnecting with the Natural World. Boston, MIT Press. p. 237-252.
Faber Taylor, A, Kuo, FE, & Sullivan, WC (2002). Views of nature and self-discipline: Evidence from inner city children [PDF - 324 KB]. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22, 49-63.
Kuo, FE, & Sullivan, WC. (2001). Environment and crime in the inner city: Does vegetation reduce crime? [PDF - 136 KB]. Environment & Behavior, 33(3), 343-367.
Taylor, AF, Kuo, FE & Sullivan, WC (2001). Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings [PDF - 193 KB]. Environment & Behavior, 33(1), 54-77.
Additional information on mental health and related topics can be found in the Additional Resources section.
Dora C, Phillips M, editors. World Health Organization (WHO). Transport, environment, and health. WHO Regional Publications, European Series 2000; No. 89
Taylor AF, Kuo FE, Sullivan WC. Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings. Environ Behav 2001, 33: 54-77.
Ulrich RS. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science 1984;224:420-1.