Why does my neighbourhood make me feel this way?

Can buildings affect your feelings?  Can your neighbourhood make you happy or sad?  How about nervous or calm?  Some people think that our environment has nothing to do with how we feel.  Others think that our environments exert a strong influence over our perception and behavior.  The theory that argues that buildings and neighbourhoods can affect us this way is known as architectural determinism.

It should come as no surprise that most architects believe the built environment can influence how people behave.  In some ways, their livelihood depends upon this belief.  There is a strong tradition of belief in architectural determinism among modern architects.

Clarence Perry , Le Corbusier , Walter Gropius , Frank Lloyd Wright , and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe all described how their designs would influence how people lived their lives.  Frederick Law Olmsted  believed that his design for a park in the middle of New York City (Central Park) would provide a venue for the lower-class masses to improve themselves by mingling (at a safe distance) with their more refined urban counterparts.  Daniel Burnham believed his City Beautiful movement would purify society through the construction of elegant structures.  Ebenezer Howard believed his Garden Cities would cure social ills and make society more productive.

More recently, researchers, such as Oscar Newman, have discussed the relationship between safety and the built environment.  Newman argues that some spaces, due to the way in which they are configured, are more “defensible” against crime.  Other researchers have looked into the relationship between how many people live in a building or in an area and how crowded they feel.  Still others have tried to understand how parks and other open spaces might affect people’s sense of well-being.

How about you?  Do you think the kind of neighbourhood you live in can influence how you feel when you walk through it?  If so, you might agree that there is a big difference between living in a decent neighbourhood and living in a great neighbourhood.

Want to learn more?  See “Maintaining a sense of community in high-density neighborhoods” and “How does residential density relate to residents’ sense of community?” by Eric Douglas.