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Editor’s Note on Van Alen Report 20: Healthy Brains Healthy Cities

Cognitive and behavioral science research is revealing more and more about how cities impact people physically, emotionally, and neurologically. With more people expected to live in cities than ever before, this growing body of knowledge is most welcome. However, knowledge alone is not enough to produce better, healthier cities. Just as new technologies and scientific approaches have provided fresh insight into how cities impact the mind and body, it will take new thinking among city-makers to harness that information and re-imagine the role that design can play in promoting mental health and well-being.

Since January 2019, we have been releasing VAR20 articles one-by-one to allow time for reading, reflection, and dialogue. Releases to date are available here.

We invite designers, practitioners, and city-makers to join us for interdisciplinary discussion and workshops in conjunction with VAR 20. Interested participants should reach out to and follow us on Instagram, #healthybrainshealthycities, @van_alen.


Sandra Chapman, Founder + Chief Director, Center for Brain Health at UT-Dallas

Fred Marks, President-Elect, Academy of Neuroscience For Architecture (ANFA)

Susan Magsamen, Executive Director, International Arts and Mind Lab at the Brain Science Institute, Johns Hopkins University

Sarah Williams Goldhagen, Architecture Critic, Author of Welcome to Your World

Hana Kassem, Principal, KPF

In this issue, we are thrilled to present perspectives from the following contributors:


Dr. Michael Arbib, Professor of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Neuroscience and Psychology at USC

Dr. David Cantor, Director, Centre for Investigative Psychology at the University of Liverpool

Dr. Richard Davidson, Founder and Director, Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Alexi Marmot, Director, Bartlett Global Centre for Learning Environments, UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment

Dr. John Medina, Founding Director, Talaris Research Institute

Richard Wener, Director, Sustainable Urban Environments, Department of Technology, Culture & Society, Tandon School of Engineering of New York University


Hansel Bauman, Gallaudet University
Dattner Architects
Tye Farrow, Farrow Partners
HLM Arkitektur
Itai Palti, Hume
Dak Kopec, University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Architecture
Man Made Music
MikYoung Kim Design
Perkins+Will Human Experience Lab
Skidmore, Ownings & Merril (SOM)



David van der Leer, Former Executive Director
Andrew Brown, Editor, Associate Director of Research
Amelia Taylor-Hochberg, Guest Editor
Andy Sherman, Research
Jessica Wachtler, Intern


Jared Della Valle, Chairman; Jessica Healy, Vice Chair; Raymond Quinn, Treasurer; Hunter Tura, Secretary; Byron Bell (Emeritus); Robert Bernstein; Kai-Uwe Bergmann; Stephen Cassell; Mark Gardner; Jenn Gustetic*; Kim Herforth Nielsen; Hana Kassem; Andre Kikoski; Jing Liu; Jonathan Marvel; Elaine Molinar; Sarah Whiting; V.Mitch McEwen

*VANguard Board Member


Van Alen Institute is a nonprofit organization that has been using design to tackle complex social, ecological, and cultural challenges for over 120 years. Building on this more than a century of experience, Van Alen develops cross-disciplinary research, provocative public programs, and inventive design competitions. Van Alen is devoted to creating new spaces for civic dialogue and developing innovative, implementable solutions to society’s many challenges, which include the effects of climate change, the consequences of gentrification and vacancy, and the impact of our nation’s infrastructure. For more information, please visit


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