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Mindfulness and Cities

This year we are exploring how the urban built environment can make space for mindfulness, intentionality and wellbeing and the associated impact on mental health of urban citizens. Funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the GCRF, we are working in partnership with Utopia and Anupam Yog to develop a suite of interventions in Kathmandu.


Rapid urbanisation, to keep pace with demand, has resulted in hastily designed and built cities. Intentionality and the human experience - the purpose of cities - are often overlooked behind development plans and governance, creating unintuitive and unyielding systems. Individual and community well-being have eroded in this context, leading to negative outcomes ranging from lowered security in public spaces to restricted capacity in the workplace. Mental health plays a central role within the broader theme of well-being, and particularly in the dense, busy and incognito urban space.

By examining the distinct relationships between urban built environment and individual and collective well-being, particularly mental health, patterns from entrenched methods of design and opportunities for positive change will emerge. This study will take place in Kathmandu, Nepal and, following a deep dive on mental health research to develop a methodology framework, will engage a cross section of urban residents, particularly women, in primary data collection through a series of urban experiments. Based on the perceived accessibility and widespread secular appeal of the mindfulness practice, the research will draw from experts, practitioners and the growing body of work around this subject as a possible lens through which to approach mental health. The final component will involve convening specialists, urban residents and partners in an interactive, co-building space to share and refine findings and identify pathways for further collaboration and buildout for use across other (emerging) cities.

The Team

Dori Nguyen is an urban planner with a background in sociocultural anthropology, and deep interest in emerging cities. Her research and work focuses on using multidisciplinary lenses, actors and solutions to tackle the urban environment’s most pressing issues. For nearly 5 years, she has studied Kathmandu and prototyped ideas alongside a variety of partners - the second half of this time under the banner of Utopia, an urban innovation group for emerging cities. She will be leading on the context and bringing the planning and gender background to the research.

Kavyaa Rizal is the Creative Director at Utopia Kathmandu, her work involves advocating for and demonstrating the use of data in the human centred design process and is a passionate advocate for wellbeing in cities. She is a mindfulness practitioner interested in the ways in which mindfulness practice may be adopted in urban environments. In this project she is leading on the research, data collection and interviews.

Anupam Yog is a creative strategist with experience in competitive positioning of countries, cities, destinations and places, and is founder of the Conscious Cities Project.. Passionate about urban innovation, Anupam is an avid community organizer and champion for walkable cities. He was invited by Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities to join their Young Leaders Group in 2018. Anupam was recognized as one of India’s leading urban innovators by Metropolis, World Association of Major Metropolises in “Indian Cities: Managing Urban Growth”. Anupam will provide expertise and guidance in the development of the urban experiments.

Dr Cosgrave is Director of the Urban Innovation and Policy Lab at University College London. She has led research relating to urban infrastructure and social justice, including C40 Cities research for their Women4Climate programme as well as research with the Liveable Cities programme on Gender and Urban Design. For this project Dr Cosgrave will be responsible for convening an international panel of experts in the field of urban health, psychology and the built environment. She will also contribute her research expertise to shape and critique the research approach.

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