A recent – and fascinating – study by the UK’s University of Exeter has revealed that living close to urban green spaces has a long-lasting positive effect on people’s mental health. The study shows that while significant life events such as promotion and marriage also have a positive impact, the effect is somewhat shorter lasting than the ongoing impact of living close to a park or other green space.
The study highlights yet another challenge faced by city designers and urban planners in their relentless quest for the happy citizen. Today, over half the world’s population lives in cities, and by 2050 this figure may rise to 70 per cent globally.1 It falls upon a city’s government to ensure that these ever-increasing conurbations can sustain their population through the provision of adequate transport, energy and public services with the added pressure of doing so in a manner that minimizes the impact on the environment, is equitable across social divides and – as this latest study demonstrates – considers the well-being of its citizens.
The consequences of failure are potentially disastrous – especially in developing regions.
In reading the report on the University of Exeter study, I was reminded of a recent publication, Creating sustainable cities for the 21st century, by my colleagues Graham Colclough and Perry Stoneman.
The report observes, “ the challenge transcends the developed, developing and undeveloped worlds, and demands sustained commitment from city leadership, industry and each of us to act now – for those that the ‘blessed generation’ leaves behind”.
Or, to put it another way – we all have a role to play in making our city a happy city.
1.        State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide, United   Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), London, 2010. www.unhabitat.org