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High density communities 'happier than the suburbs'

High density communities 'happier than the suburbs'

People living in high-density inner city areas are happier and healthier on average than those living in low-density suburbs, a new study has concluded. 

The research by scholars at Oxford University and the University of Hong Kong looked at 22 UK cities and found that people living in the higher-density areas - defined as more than 32 homes per hectare - tended to be happier and healthier, with less obesity, a greater emphasis on walking and public transport use, and more community involvement.

Such findings challenge the received wisdom that those living in areas of dense population are less happy and healthy, and may have a significant impact on planning policies and construction trends.

For instance, it may lead to an increased focus on building apartment blocks in the heart of cities, a trend that has become very prominent in recent years but one where any perceptions that building has reached a saturation point may be discarded. 

Commenting on the study to Thompson Reuters, co-author of the report Chinmoy Sarkar said: "If we can convince policymakers 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."

At present, most of the highest density living is in London. At the 2011 Census, 161 council wards in the capital were found to have a population density of over 100, compared with just 29 in the rest of the country - eight of which were in Brighton and Hove. 

However, many planners might have difficulty accepting that those living in crowded areas really are happier and healthier, as other surveys give a different picture.

For example, a study by the Office for National Statistics published last week found that four of the five local government areas where people were the least happy were in major urban areas, including Wolverhampton and three London boroughs. By contrast, the happiest place was Craven in North Yorkshire, one of two districts in the county making the top five along with neighbouring Richmondshire.

These suggest the greatest happiness is to be found in low-density rural living.

Image: AmandaLewis via iStock


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