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In his post ‘Health & Well being in Urban Design’, Shijie talks about many of the effects that Urban Design can have on our mental and physical well being. Whilst I agree with what Shijie has said in his post. I would add an extra dimension to this and talk about the importance of security and safety to our mental and physical well being and how we can design safety into the urban environment.

The advantages to physical health of having natural surveillance on a street are obvious. If somebody was to have an accident or collapse in the street then somebody would notice and be able to provide assistance whilst crime is also less likely to occur somewhere where there are people watching. The ‘feeling’ of security is also important to our positive mental health and reduces our stress levels, or the feeling of being on edge.

The typical idea of security in the urban environment is a defensive one with high walls, fences and gates with CCTV coverage such as in a gated community or estate. Often however, this sort of design can lead to quite unwelcoming places which make us feel less safe rather than more so. A relatively new approach to safety and security in the Urban environment which is heavily based upon the ideas of Jane Jacobs, is the idea of natural security and surveillance. This idea suggests that human activity on or adjacent to a street (i.e. in houses or buildings which front onto the street) increases the natural surveillance of the street and therefore our feeling of safety and security.

Jacobs suggests three main qualities which are needed to make a street successful in this way:

Firstly there must be a clear distinction between public and private space, not simply merging into one another as they do in some residential suburbs. This creates interest and encourages viewership and to some extent, communal ownership of the street by emphasising it.

Secondly buildings on the street, both public and private, must face onto it rather than back onto it or sit side onto it. This is important to increasing surveillance from nearby buildings.

Thirdly the pavement (or sidewalk) must have users on it. This both encourages more viewership of the street from nearby buildings whilst also putting more natural surveillance on the street itself. In particular there must be activities and mixed use areas in order to encourage people to use the street at all times of day (fewer monocultures of ‘residential’ or ‘commercial’ where there is no activity at certain times during the day).

I hope this adds to Shijie’s suggestions for increasing health and well-being in the Urban environment.


The Centre for Mental Health and Urban Design:

Jacobs, J: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509


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