Where You Live Impacts Your Health

What can be done to ensure that living conditions in cities are healthy? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Richard Florida, University Professor, Co-founder of The Atlantic’s CityLab, on Quora:

Cities are the key to health. We know that the layout of cities and their composition effects all forms of health and well-being. The design of our cities gets us out of our cars and makes us more active. Numerous surveys have shown that the physical and intangible features of a city – what I call ‘quality of place’ – are associated with higher levels of happiness and better health. The presence of bike lanes, open spaces, and parks contributes to this. Denser cities, where people walk more, are healthier; more sprawling cities, where people drive more, are less so. The way we live – not just what we eat and how much we exercise – appears to play a big role in how healthy we are.

My own research shows that healthier metros are denser, more urban, more diverse, and more innovative, while dependence on older manufacturing industries is associated with poorer health. Metros with higher incomes, higher levels of education, and greater concentrations of the creative class were healthier than those where that have lower levels of education and more working class, blue-collar economic structures.

The divides in our cities also contribute to ill-health. The affluent who live in advantaged cities and advantaged neighborhoods have much better health outcomes than the less advantaged who live in poorer, more disadvantaged communities and neighborhoods. Less advantaged neighborhoods typically experience more pollution; they also experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. Poor health outcomes and intractable urban poverty are as closely related today as they were historically; raising minimum wages, improving education and creating higher levels of socio-economic mobility can go far to change that.

Community-building can also help dispel the plague of loneliness. An important study published by Toronto Public Health, which looked into the increasing incidence of mental health problems and suicides in the city’s population. The link it found between suicide and social isolation was unmistakable. Isolation is a fact of life in far-flung sprawling suburbs where people depend on the car, but it also occurs in even the most crowded cities.

So our divides of class and location not only shape our economic cleavages, dividing us by income and economic opportunity, they also divide us by health and well-being.