The relationship between health and housing has a long and storied history, with urban environments being no exception. Despite many years of advocacy and pushes towards more human-centric spaces, however, the current landscape, remains lacking in many cases. If one good thing could be said about the pandemic, it’s that attention has once again been brought to bear against the role urban design and in turn living spaces play in promoting health and wellbeing, very directly in terms of preventing infectious diseases like COVID-19, and more indirectly by guiding human behavior, according to many health experts speaking with Medical News Today.
Not All Homes Are Built Equal
Amidst the lockdowns, while some people were able to step out into a garden and take a breather amongst nature, others had no such recourse. While some could take a trip to the local park right down the road, others needed to travel great distances to achieve similar spaces.
The disproportionate experiences of people during lockdowns not only highlighted a disparity between types of housing, but also between the wealth classes that these housing types were defined by.
To help combat this, experts like Robert Huxford state that urban developers need to be keyed into the needs of the neighborhoods and communities they are building for. For instance, property builders working deep in the inner city should be prioritizing access to the outdoors in future projects. Say, for apartment complexes, this might come in the form of balconies for each resident, or a community garden on the roof.
More broadly, this extends to housing that is keenly aware of potential demographics in addition to environmental and economic contexts. A better form of housing under this philosophy is one that addresses the needs of the community at large while also directly catering to the families that reside within them.
Housing Can Either Make or Break Communities
Alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, the loneliness pandemic wracked the world. Lockdown isolation drew heavy attention not just to the fact that humans are by nature social creatures, but how prolonged separation from socialization can have severe consequences regarding mental and physical health.
Here, housing can either help or hurt. In complexes where there’s been a clear line set between different property classes, such as between penthouses and more common apartment units, socialization can become more difficult, even when people are living in the same building as one another.
In fostering a community, experts propose that apartment complexes and neighborhoods should set up units or houses in such ways that facilitate conversations and positive relationships with neighbors. These meaningful, friendly relationships can lead to sensations of inclusion and belonging and improve mental health overall.
The Overuse of Cars is Systemic of Poor Design
Air and noise pollution is one of the biggest factors impacting physical and mental health in the city. In the most immediate area around a living space, traffic from motor vehicles is the worst culprit. And it may be the design of many cities that are to blame.
According Dr. Stephen Flemming, author of Velotopia: The Production of Cyclespace in Our Minds and Our Cities, urban centers where residences are far from work, public transportation and other vital resources like food or medical care, actively encourage the use of personal vehicles. Even personal garages attached to houses play into this.
Not only does this type of design contribute to more light, air and noise pollution, it also contributes to more sedentary lifestyles, which can easily lead to multiple medical issues down the road. For future construction, experts like Fleming are getting creative in their concepts for urban landscapes that favor the cyclist over the driver.
“In my book Velotopia,” continued Dr. Fleming, “I detailed, in drawings and architectural jargon, apartment-style housing that would set you on your way on your bike. You would leave your tenth story apartment, and rather than waiting for a slow lift, just ride past all the other apartments arranged around a sloping, typically spiraling, corridor or what we call an ‘access gallery’ or sometimes an ‘aerial street.’”