In a new report, the Key Cities network discusses how the health of residents of large urban centers is becoming one of the major challenges facing tomorrow's cities. Previous research has already indicated that the populations of large cities can feel more lonely and isolated overall. In its report, Key Cities suggests some means to help make city centers more attractive, inclusive and suited to uses, thus reducing feelings of loneliness.
People living in big cities, surrounded by thousands of people, can still feel very alone. Mental health in large urban centers is a major factor to consider when it comes to shaping the cities of the future.
The Key Cities working group has released a report on how cities can favor better mental, physical and social health. The collaborative network of 25 cities across England and Wales has set out the principles of its "Health First" strategy to integrate these issues into broader public policy.
"The city of the future should be healthy"
In its "The Healthy City" report, the Key Cities network calls on governments to put in place a new "national vision and planning strategy" to address the deteriorating mental health situation in major urban centers. The report calls for the ramping up of policies already in place, including the "zero loneliness" strategy.
Back in 2018, the British government launched this strategy following the publication of a study from the University of Hong Kong, reporting an increase in feelings of loneliness. British residents surveyed said they felt loneliness when the density of their neighborhood was high. The authors of the Key Cities report, citing this study conducted on a large scale in the country, point out that social isolation increased by 11.4%.
Robin Hewings, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness program, told Cities Today that while loneliness is sometimes a part of life, "the focus needs to be on when loneliness goes from being something that you feel a bit or sometimes to being what your day-to-day life is like, because that is when it cuts very deeply. That's where it leads to quite serious, long-term mental and physical health issues."
Creating links, fostering connections
In its report, Key Cities proposes various potential means of fighting loneliness and boosting healthy habits generally, such as deploying underused public spaces, creating a transportation network that encourages social interaction, rethinking city centers, and using digital technologies.
There are many examples around the world of how to rethink the health of people living in large cities. For example, giving pedestrians access to certain streets and preventing cars from driving in front of schools in Paris allows residents to reclaim these spaces.
The case of the Exeter Living Lab is an example of a community project aiming to forge links between people from different socio-professional backgrounds to create a cross-sector collaboration platform on green recovery in the area.
And these urban transformations, taking into account mental, physical and social health, seem increasingly essential to help prevent health deterioration in city populations.