Written by two social scientists, this book makes a useful contribution to the interdisciplinary nature of urban design. Why restorative and not also preventative, or simply cities conducive to mental health remains an open question, especially as, by the authors’ own admission, the empirical studies on the effects of cities on mental health remain small and scarce. The pandemic has highlighted the adverse effects of highly constrained urban living on mental health, and makes this guide to mental healthconscious urban design timely, although some may consider it too environmentally deterministic.
IIn the introduction the authors argue for the need for a new urban paradigm for mental health. From their mental and psychosocial health perspective, they support their premise in terms of a systems approach to mental health, based on two selected psychological and behavioural science theories: Kaplan’s ART (attention restoration theory) and Ulrich’s SRT (stress reduction theory).
In the authors’ view, restorative urbanism unites seven salutogenic (health improving) properties in a restorative city: green, blue, sensory, neighbourly, active, playable and inclusive (or equigenic). These properties are discussed in separate chapters using the same systematic analytical framework for each of them. The chapters start with highlights, give definitions of key concepts, as well as of the specific property in discussion, include an annotated theoretical diagram on the effects of each particular property on mental health, highlight the benefits for mental health and wellbeing of each property in some detail, and identify the modifiers of impacts. They propose design approaches for each property separately, as well as how the property can be prescribed medically, give a few examples, and conclude with design principles for each property. While providing a lot of relevant information within each chapter, this fragmented approach makes it difficult to combine the specific analytical findings and proposals for each property into an integrated design concept. Nevertheless, this is attempted in a concluding chapter entitled The Restorative City.
Roe and McCay discussed their book at a recent UDG webinar, where three respondents contributed supplementary views on how theories and scientific knowledge can be translated into processes and reality. The urban design audience had many queries about how they could incorporate this knowledge on mental health into their designs, while it is not sufficiently prioritised by their public or private clients. The event can be viewed on the UDG’s website as useful complementary information.