Intuitively, most of us would say that being in nature is healthy, and being in a city is not. That idea, whether it’s true or not, has been in our minds for at least multiple centuries. This has caused an interaction between the growth of cities, health conditions and moving behaviour of the Dutch people over the past few hundred years.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a lecture on this topic, and I wanted to share some of the very interesting things I learned with you.
Age of Enlightment
During the age of enlightment, educated people were thinking very hard about almost everything. One of the most basic thoughts in that was the idea that nature is the basis of everything. A logical next step in thinking was that disorder and problems arise from (urban) civilisation.
In reaction to that, wealthy people moved from the city to rural areas. First to private estates, but later on public “garden cities” were formed. This method of urban planning was initially founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard, from the United Kingdom. It’s main focus is to create a living environment with housing, greens (agricultural and nature) and industry all present in equal amounts.
Some time later, at the end of the First World War, the Spanish Flu lashed out all around the world. This in turn caused another stream of people escaping the overcrowded cities. By the end of the pandemic, architecture had also reacted to the demand in healthy living places by creating buildings in the classic modernist style. Houses and public buildings let the inhabitants enjoy as much light, air and sunlight as possible through the use of large windows and partly open walls. During the 1920’s, architects actually wore lab coats, because they were seen as the “docters of the cities”, they were there to make our living environment healthy again.
After the Second World War
Then came the second blow of destruction throughout Europe. Most of the big cities in Western Europe had suffered bombardments and had to be rebuild, or at least partially. This is where the idea of the “Stadtlandschaft” came in. If we have to rebuild the whole city, why not make a nice open place with buildings strewn loosely in a park-like environment? Unfortunately, this plan turned out to be way to expensive, and little of it ever came to being. What did happen directly after the war was a lot of urbanisation at a high pace, putting enormous amounts of pressure on the only partially restored cities. The main purpose of developers was creating housing for a many people as possible with little money and space.
Out of the City
But then something else happened. Maybe partly because of the airstrikes, and partially for a wanting of more free space, people started moving out of the cities once again. Now the real suburbs were formed, creating new communities around old cities. These suburbs were built at a very high pace, leaving little time or money for architectural delights or well-thought-through mapping. That way, huge new housing estates came into being. They did house the people, but did little to give them a comfortable place to live. Even now, the negative effects of living in a district like that are very evident and more and more studies show the other side of the coin. It is even said that living in a new housing estate has a bigger psychological impact than actually living through a bombardment.
Nowadays more and more initiatives for livable cities and suburbs arise. One of them being the Dutch termed “bloemkoolwijk” (cauliflower district) where the roads are purposely curly and there has been thought about organic forms and public green throughout the district. Other solutions have been found as well, and it seems as if we are heading in the right direction. It will probably be some time before a city or suburb is actually a healthy place to live, but we might get there.
How do you feel about living in a city and its health effects?