Scoping assessment of transport design targets to improve public mental health

MccAy l, Amal Abassi, Ghassan Abu-Lebdeh, Zakiyya Adam, Suzanne Audrey, Anthony Barnett, Glòria Carrasco-Turigas, Ester Cerin, Wafa Elias, Gunnar Hand, Charlotte Kelly, Marc Lüke, Kara E. MacLeod, Claudine Moutou, Anna Maria Puig-Ribera, Ewa Rykala, Sam Schwartz, Ipek N. Sener, Caroline Shaw, Cristina VertKaren Witten, Andree Woodcock, Belen Zapata-Diomedi, Maciej Żołnierczuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urban design that promotes good mental health is becoming an increasingly interesting public health opportunity that is capturing the attention of planners, architects, engineers, and health professionals alike. Mental illness affects at least 1 out of every 4 people in their lifetime, and everybody experiences mental health problems from time to time. (1) This risk is elevated for people who live in cities by up to 40% for depression, 20% for anxiety, and may be up to double for schizophrenia. (2) The OECD assesses that the direct and indirect costs of mental illness can amount to 4% of GDP. (3)

Part of the elevated risk of mental illness in urban settings can be explained by predisposing factors, from genetics to personal experiences such as unemployment or homelessness (both risk factors for mental illness, but also urban migration drivers). However, another element is that the urban built environment can undermine many of the protective factors that support good mental health. Design interventions can focus on providing these protective factors, from a tree canopy to provide physical comfort during the summer by mitigating the urban heat island effect, to providing a safe and welcoming, amenitized public gathering space to encourage social interaction.

Transportation is an important component of any city, but opportunities for leveraging transportation design elements to promote mental health and wellbeing have not been fully explored, and specific research on transportation design factors for public mental health is in its infancy. However, evidence from other fields of urban design may point to research and innovation opportunities within the transportation sector. Key urban design factors that can affect mental health include design for: access to natural (green and blue) spaces (4,5), the promotion of physical activity (6), pro-social activity (7), safety (including wayfinding, crime, air quality, and traffic), visual pollution (aesthetics), light and sound pollution, and sleep quality (8,9). This assessment aims to apply the theory of urban design for good mental health specifically to the transport sector, identifying potential research and innovation targets in order to better leverage transportation design for mental health promotion.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of urban design and mental health
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

All articles published by the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. CC BY


  • mental health
  • transport
  • Urban mobility
  • mental illneess


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