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2017

An app for city living

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City living can be exhausting, but how does it impact on our mental health? Dr Andrea Mechelli, from the Department of Psychosis Studies in King’s world-renowned Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, is working with landscape architecture practice J&L Gibbons, technology studio A&E and Nomad Projects, the Van Alen Institute in New York and the Research Councils UK-funded Sustainable Society Network+ to develop an app that will help us answer that question.

The Urban Mind app measures users’ experience of city living, collecting real-time data that is helping us understand how different aspects of the urban environment affect our mental wellbeing.

In a pilot study, volunteers provided basic information about their lifestyle and mental wellbeing to the Urban Mind app installed on their smartphones. Participants were then asked to answer a series of questions about their current environment, lifestyle and mental wellbeing seven times a day over the course of a week.

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During each assessment participants could also photograph the ground or floor they were standing on, or take a 15 second audio recording of their immediate surroundings. Posting these images on the project’s Instagram page encouraged further volunteers for the project.

With the idea of Smart Cities still high on political agendas, the aim of the research has been to help architects, urban planners and policy-makers create a more sympathetic built environment. By measuring how our immediate urban landscape shapes our psychological and emotional state, the project’s findings will help doctors have a better understanding of patients’ stress points, and influence future social policy aimed at improving design and health.

The project has been informed by Dr Mechelli’s work as a clinical psychologist with the NHS in London, where he sees the impact of the built environment on his patients. Its findings have now been collated and will form the basis of an international study this autumn, along with an improved app. What started in London could one day help city dwellers worldwide.

Download and find out more about the Urban Mind app here.

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