The mental health of cities declines as cities grow and we become disconnected and feel we don’t belong. Cities make us more anxious and disconnected. All are drivers for poor mental health of people and our cities.
So what is the mental health of cities? Can a city have a persona, or a mental health profile and score? How would your city’s score go compared to other cities and towns. The City Whisperer explores this emerging area.
My move to Newcastle a Regional City
I recently moved to Newcastle, a regional city which is 2 hours north of Sydney, Australia. This was after living in Sydney for most of my life, 60 odd years in fact!
I found that I was more relaxed in general just by being here! The beach is a 10 minute drive, I can walk to the shops and to my local swimming pool in Mayfield East and get away to the other coastal and regional towns within an hour or two. I even saw a sheep tethered to a post outside a local coffee shop while the owners sat and chatted!
Getting to know people
People are friendly and actually greet you when you go for a walk!
Getting to know new people is important for me and connecting with community, which is easier due to the smaller scale of the community. The Novocastrians by birth are a bit edgy at times but welcoming and I feel I belong somehow. Perhaps it is my background.
Places of Belonging
I grew up in Willoughby (Sydney) which sits on the lower end of the north shore and was actually a working class, blue collar suburb in my youth. I lived in Chiltern Road, and it bears a strange resemblance to the suburban street (in Newcastle) which I am now living in.
By that I mean it is a wide back-street with historical cottages which are remnant of the industrial background of the former industrial suburb of Mayfield. I feel familiar with these two streets and even the people in them though are were lived in half a century apart. Some of the older people even resemble some of the older people of my childhood!
The Big City and the Regional City
I love Sydney and who wouldn’t with that harbour. The Emerald City. The city of my childhood and the creation of my family and my children.
Sydney is bounded by coast and rivers and the Blue Mountains and the basin is populating too fast within a finite space. In my earlier years I never thought twice about going to a meeting by car and public transport was not a thing back then.
Now I prefer to go on zoom rather than spend 45 minutes getting across the city and a traffic accident could change the whole day. A visit to Sydney from Newcastle is only 2 hours but as I hit the outer fringe and the streets turn to expressways, my anxiety rises. I have to plan the day carefully to catch up with friends and family.
Places of the heart
The street that my children grew up in West Chatswood in the 90s and early 2000s was a cul de sac and sat on the edge of the Lane Cove National Park. Our street community all knew each other and the kids played on the street and in the bush.
I return to the street nostalgically every now and then and there are no signs of life as I knew it back then.
So I am glad I have those memories and have a street and city I live in now that has the same feel though it is many years later.
What is the future of our cities and mental health?
What is the future of these cities and how do we maintain our well being and the mental health of the city itself if it had a persona.
What persona does your town or city have, is it relaxed and creative. Is it friendly and there is a sense of belonging? Or is it manic and anxious and even depressive?
How will time treat it and what will it become?
How mental is your city?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you.
Dr Jonathan Drane
About the City Whisperer:
About Dr Jon Drane