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Neighborhoods Need to Be Designed More Like Military Bases

Bases are now built with a focus on mental health.
Image: Komal Dewan

On Edge is a series about stress in 2017.

Maybe you think your job is stressful. And hey, it very well might be. Maybe your boss is a moron, or you’re juggling multiple projects, or you have to get along with a coworker who insists on saying shit like, “Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays.”

Still, it likely pales compared to the magnitude of serving in the armed forces. Imagine, for example, you’re part of a young family that’s been shipped off to a base in rural Oklahoma—no friends, no extended family—and that’s before your spouse gets deployed to Iraq for six months.

“It’s very stressful, from a mental health perspective, especially,” says University of Oregon professor Mark Gillem, director of the school’s Urban Design Lab. And it’s part of the reason why the architects and urban planners who design military bases have, in recent years, begun placing a renewed emphasis on creating facilities that can support and enhance the mental wellbeing of soldiers and their families.

Gillem explains that for many years, military bases mirrored surrounding suburban sprawl: low-density, automobile-oriented, not conducive to walking or biking. And Gillem, who was in active duty in the US Air Force for nine years and spent another 12 in the Reserves, saw firsthand the problems with this kind of poor planning: the costs associated with it, the inefficiencies of it, the burden on physical and mental health—and ultimately, the damage to the longevity of the mission.

Today, he’s the principal of the Urban Collaborative, an urban design firm where he applies that experience to determine what we can do differently. “A military base is like a city. You have hospitals and parks and housing and offices, shopping centers and restaurants,” Gillem explains. “We have the ingredients to make great places, it’s just the the recipe we’ve been using has been inadequate.”

Read the full story on TONIC.