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Van Alen Institute believes that our environments shape all aspects of our lives, and with a better understanding of this dynamic, new tools can be created to tackle old problems. As design experts, the Institute explores two fundamental questions: How do cities impact minds and bodies? And, in turn, how do people impact the environment?

These questions spark further inquiry about the relationships between the built environment and human well-being, and highlight issues in everyday urban life that need a fresh approach. What are the impacts of housing density on social structures? How can tweaks in the layout of a street or the form of a neighborhood improve the quality of life for its residents? Can persistent inequality be analyzed spatially?

Better Data, Healthier Cities

Much of the world designs, builds and lives in spaces that are not good for people. To make our cities more welcoming, healthier and safer, it is increasingly important to collect information and develop tools that can be used to analyze the impact of cities on minds and bodies. In the past, the human experience of urban space could only be observed from the outside, but now there are many types of sensors that can collect data on our physical and neurological reactions.

Van Alen believes that this data can be analyzed to better understand how behavior and well-being are being shaped by the urban environment. The Institute has developed programs to further this research in partnership with academics, scientists, artists, and other pioneers exploring this emerging area of knowledge.

The projects below illustrate Van Alen’s pioneering efforts to find ways to identify connections between specific environmental stimuli and human responses, and thereby develop healthier urban policies, plans, and designs for people everywhere.