Mental Health and the Environment

Dr Hugh Freeman provided us with another stimulating talk after the AGM on February 12th. His thesis was that where one lives, its structure and design, its size, the crowding and location all contribute to, or too often detract from, human happiness. Truth when proclaimed with authority, is like good poetry, striking one with its familiarity as something that has always been known. Certainly much of what Dr Freeman had to say has been thought, heard or said before, but has been less frequently documented with such convincing research. Some of his examples served not only to illustrate but also could be applied as a warning to Lichfield.

There is a correlation between the size of cities and the incidence of crime in those cities. Although there is a relatively shallow curve of crime versus growth up to a population of half a million, thereafter the rise is phenomenal. If one speculates upon the projection of this crime-growth effect within larger conurbations, laced with fast urban highways, and then look at Lichfield's growth as Birmingham creeps nearer through Sutton Coldfield, as the villages in between expand to satisfy the appetite of land-hungry developers; we may then ask "Why all this enthusiasm for growth?".

In larger towns people walk faster than they do in smaller ones. In smaller communities there is more human contact and greater opportunities for interaction and since human relationships are a significant factor of personal happiness, then the zealous pursuit of expansion and growth would seemingly have only economic justification. Benefit for the few?

Dr Freeman remarked upon our good fortune in Lichfield in having such a superb building as the Cathedral with which to identify, for he believes that "identification" is a very important element for mental health. On hearing of the selling off of open spaces and of some of the developments within the city he agreed that we should all be warned against complacency. He expressed the opinion that the repetitive commercial logo and standard shop-front of the multiples and the proliferation of banks and building societies inevitably lead to a reduction in "identity". The influence of Corbusier, the high-rise development of the sixties and the wholesale destruction of urban communities all received Dr Freeman's attention; but he felt that the lessons had been learned from these particular errors, although he was less optimistic about their long term social consequences.

Members of the Society will regret that the City's decision makers were not present at Dr Freeman's talk.

Ivor Mitchell
February 1986