SEVENTEEN: Experiential Equity: An Environmental Neuroscientific Lens for Disparities in Urban Stress


This pandemic has highlighted and demonstrated the bidirectional relationship between urban design and stress. At a very fundamental level, COVID- 19, a communicable disease, has shifted how we engage with urban environments; places of connection that once brought joy may now be seen as places that expose us to threat of the disease. The term ‘pandemicrelated stress’ refers to the stress and anxiety associated with contracting the illness, passing the illness onto others, as well as the financial stress associated with the pandemic’s impact on the economy (Barzilay et al, 2020). As other chapters in this volume have emphasized, these impacts and their associated stresses vary considerably due to intersecting identities and geographies. There are many unknowns during the pandemic which have driven a sense of uncertainty and stress (Hirsch et al, 2012).

How, then, can we address this stress, which is a detrimental threat to central life goals? Considering that the threat of spreading, or contracting, the virus is primarily dependent on proximity to others within indoor spaces, the use of outdoor space, including both private and public spaces, could be seen as a way to mitigate pandemic- related stress. To help ensure the physical and mental well- being of residents, many cities have adapted their public spaces and built environments in order to increase the amount of open and public space available to use (see Volume 3). This has been done through the closing down of roadways to cars, implementing new bike lanes and, as more was learned about virus transmission, encouraging the use of park spaces.

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