Andrea Mechelli

Urban Mind: Mental health in the city and beyond

Urban Mind is a research project that measures the effects of urban and rural environments on mental health, created by a team of lecturers and PhD students from King’s College London, landscape architects J & L Gibbons, and arts foundation Nomad Projects.

Urban Mind App 1The app works by collecting data three times a day for two weeks, by prompting the user to answer questions about how they feel about the environment around them. At the end of the trial, users receive an individualised report summarising their experiences during this period.

The project’s pilot initially called for 50 London-based volunteers, but were flooded with over 600 applications from cites as far ranging as Australia and China.

According to Andrea Mechelli, a professor of early intervention in mental health at KCL, and one of the creators of the app, “the urban living aspect captured people’s attention.”

He added: “Now we’ve started a full-scale study, and the app now works in Cantonese, Mandarin, German, French, and English so it can be used by a wider range of people.”

Urban Mind looks at different dimensions of a space, such as the mix of social and built environments, and how they can impact on a person’s mental health. The app looks at access to green and blue infrastructure, seating areas, easily navigable walkways, and other elements of public spaces, to quantify the effects of creating risk.

When looking at the data, users can track the areas where people feel safe, and where they don’t, and if the built environment makes a direct impact on sunlight and street access. This data is then sent as a report to Urban Mind’s partners, and the Government to provide insight into well regarded areas, and areas that need improvement.

Professor Mechelli said “it’s about understanding and measuring the impact of spaces, like cherished spaces”, and relaying the information back to local communities so that “the spaces that promote social and health value can be protected.”

In Thamesmead, an area that has seen massive regeneration, the data that Urban Mind have collected show a noticeable and trackable difference in how people have interacted with the space in its evolution.

The data that Urban Mind collects goes on to inform future planning and design for the public realm. The team are currently working with housing associations in London to develop methods to counteract the negative effects of the urban environment on mental health.

Over time, the app will be able to measure and record the effects of policy changes and how the Government’s actions are impacting on people’s mental health. This includes the policy change in pollution, from this April, that affects different areas of London.

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