Reclaiming Urban Spaces: The Critical Link Between City Design and Lifestyle

It was a rainy, windy evening as I was walking through the streets of Rotterdam. Feeling chilled by the strong wind, I decided to run slowly instead of walking to raise my body temperature and better withstand the weather. In doing so, I realized how much I actually enjoyed it and wondered why I hadn't taken up casual running in a long time.

I think the reason is I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I used to in my hometown, and this is because of Yerevan's bad city design. While it's in a much better position than many other cities, it still is a city built with cars in mind instead of people.

Many firmly believe that owning a car is about freedom or independence. Some also strongly fight the idea that we should reduce the number of cars in cities. They propose fixing severe and counterproductive traffic jams by adding more car lanes, inadvertently incentivizing even more cars and thus worsening the congestion. Isn't that ironic?

I feel the opposite - a car is an extremely limiting transportation method with many laws telling you what you can and cannot do (you are also stuck in four walls and depend on oil or electricity, whereas a bike is self-sustained). The laws exist for an obvious reason: cars are hazardous, and they kill people; reduce the number of cars, and the number of deaths from car accidents will decrease (sometimes significantly). The Dutch figured this out some time ago and have been diligently working to reverse the damage caused by designing cities under the assumption that everyone must own a car.

It also finally clicked: I now knew why many people could theoretically find a treadmill more attractive than running outside. I never really thought treadmill made sense and never understood why people like them. Turns out, part of it is being born in a city that incentivizes running by being chill, well-integrated with the nature, and overall great to live in. The reason could be the same as why I didn't run in Yerevan - cities that do not incentivize casual running. The lack of safe, accessible routes for running (narrow streets are great!) and the absence of "integrated" nature doesn't really help here.

Just as detrimental environments foster bad habits, poor city design promotes unhealthy lifestyles. Since I now live in a city with good design, built with people in mind, it just feels right to start casually running again; it will be an enjoyable activity that will benefit both my creativity & reflection and health greatly.

I reached out about this to P., who runs regularly and participates in marathons and expressed my interest in joining him for a run if he didn't mind since I enjoyed runs with friends & intellectually stimulating companions. I'm looking forward to the possibility of joining him next week!

These were my thoughts about how cities affect your lifestyle for today. They change you. It takes a while for the lifestyle changes to occur. It didn't take Yerevan too long to do it and essentially kill a lot of good habits I had from my hometown. However, I'm happy to share that it seems the Netherlands is swiftly acting to undo the damage, reverse the course, and reintroduce the positive lifestyle aspects I once enjoyed, much like they did with the bikes.

Doei <3

Final edit done while listening to Dogs on Prozac by Yaleesa Hall from Amsterdam :)