Forget about the suburban idyll – city living makes for a healthier, happier life, according to new research.
The study, by Oxford University and the University of Hong Kong (UHK), found that human wellbeing is enhanced by socialising and being physically active, things that tend to happen more when living in close proximity to others.
The study found that, in 22 British cities, residents of built-up residential areas exercised more and had lower levels of obesity than those in suburban homes.
It compared more than 400,000 city-dwellers, and found the healthiest communities were in areas with more than 32 homes per hectare, which is the average density for new builds in Britain.
Its authors hope their findings will encourage politicians to promote built-up city living, the benefits of which are often overlooked.
Co-author Chinmoy Sarkar, assistant professor at UHK, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “If we can convince policy makers that this is a public health opportunity, we can build well-designed communities, and in the long term, you have made a big difference in health outcomes.
“With evidence, we can plan multi-functional, attractive neighbourhoods that promote physical activity, promote social interaction, and shield from negatives such as pollution and feeling unsafe.”
The study showed that areas with 18 homes per hectare – often in poorer neighbourhoods – had the greatest rates of obesity and lowest rates of exercise.
Suburban areas with few homes – usually privileged communities with spacious gardens – were healthier, but still lagged behind the most densely populated areas in inner cities.
London is one of Europe’s most sparsely populated major cities, with less than half the density of Madrid, Barcelona and Paris. The paper highlighted the capital’s mansion blocks and terraced streets as examples of built-up areas that foster a strong sense of neighborhood.
Sarkar called on the government to halt plans, announced earlier this year, to build 17 new towns on villages in the countryside to ease the current housing shortage.