Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Monday, November 19, 2012

Do cities make us sick?

See the pictures gallery at

I have no doubt that living in big cities is really stressful. You walk pushing all the people and feel the fear somebody could steal anything from you; everyday listening to vehicles´ horns, the sounds of cars and buses, vendors everywhere, homeless, shouts and so on. I have an architect friend who at noon gets out of the office and goes to the park, and for at least half an hour, sitting on the grass, eating a sandwich, she forgets about the city. I never could imitate her example. It seems there´s a pretty serious research about this issue, let´s read from the article by Brian Merchant at 

¨ In 1965, health authorities in Camberwell, a bustling quarter of London's southward sprawl, began an unusual tally. They started to keep case records for every person in the area who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder or any other psychiatric condition. Decades later, when psychiatrists looked back across the data, they saw a surprising trend: the incidence of schizophrenia had more or less doubled, from around 11 per 100,000 inhabitants per year in 1965 to 23 per 100,000 in 1997 — a period when there was no such rise in the general population. 
One possible explanation was that exposure to the city itself, and its myriad stresses, was driving the decline in mental health. Statistics collected in the United States and Germany seem to corroborate the finding. Nature notes that "In Germany, the number of sick days taken for psychiatric ailments doubled between 2000 and 2010; in North America, up to 40% of disability claims for work absence are related to depression, according to some estimates." 
But nobody's making any conclusions — cities are vast, complex human ecosystems, and it's extremely difficult to pinpoint how, if, or why living in them may give rise to mental health problems. There's still a ton of study to be done, and there may be more specific reasons that city residents are suffering from mental health woes. So, scientists have embarked on ambitious projects to map entire metropolises, follow citizens with mobile app tech as they go to work, and to better understand how the urban environment causes stress. One thing seems to be certain; better-planned cities, with ample green spaces and areas in which residents can find relief from the bustle are preferable to the concrete jungle. Research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that city dwellers who lived closer to green spaces exhibited better mental health; they were less likely to be stressed or to suffer from more serious ailments.¨

See the list of the most stressful cities in USA:

An eloquent picture of urban sprawl. Wikimedia/IDuke/CC BY 2.0

And from Melissa Breyer´s article at

Newly developed areas characterized by urban sprawl are wreaking havoc on the environment by any number of reasons, one of which is an integral piece of suburban design – a reliance on cars. But neighborhood design also influences the health of human populations, according to a new study from St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.
The researchers found that the less walkable one’s neighborhood is, the higher risk its inhabitants have of developing diabetes.
The study looked at data from the population of Toronto aged 30-64 and identified those without diabetes. For five years the participants were tracked to see who developed diabetes, which was compared to where they lived and analyzed against data on neighborhood walkabiliy.
To figure out how walkable each neighborhood is, the researchers created an index looking at factors such as population density, street connectivity and the availability of walkable destinations such as retail stores and service within a 10-minute walk.
The results were surprising, with up to a 50 percent increase in the risk of developing diabetes for those living in a less walkable neighborhood, when compared to long-term residents living in the most walkable areas, results were regardless of neighborhood income. Within these findings, the team found that the risk was especially high for new immigrants living in low-income neighborhoods. As noted in the study, past research has demonstrated a precipitated risk of obesity-related issues for new immigrants within the first 10 years of arrival to Canada.

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