Applying Trauma-Informed Design to Cities

How trauma-informed urbanism can make cities and their residents healthier and more resilient.

2 minute read

January 3, 2024, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


View of green meadow with people and fall-colored trees in Central Park with Manhattan buildings in background.

Nick Starichenko / Adobe Stock

An opinion piece by Nicholas Lalla in Fast Company reveals the high social and economic costs of traumatic disasters, highlighting how cities can boost their resiliency and prepare for disaster recovery. 

“A city that isn’t resilient enough to withstand the aftermath of a disaster, manmade or natural, isn’t one that can serve for long as a viable center of commerce, culture, and society,” Lalla writes. “Research published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that in 2018, post-traumatic stress disorder cost the U.S. economy over $230 billion, while research from the University of Pennsylvania found that childhood trauma alone cost society over $450 billion each year.”

In Lalla’s view, “Above and beyond strong infrastructure, such as levees that protect my hometown of New Orleans against hurricanes, cities need to better anticipate, mitigate, and heal from trauma itself.” Lalla describes an emergent field known as trauma-informed urban development, an approach that focuses on “resilience, community cohesion, and aid in recovery.” The approach includes strategies such as consulting with mental health professionals, connecting people with nature and green spaces that can help improve mental health and air quality, supporting vibrant, mixed-use developments, and providing economic opportunities to help residents recover after disasters. 

Many of the goals of the trauma-informed urban development movement dovetail with the goals of other urbanists: walkability, better public transit, green spaces, and economic opportunity, all qualities that help cities “stand a good chance of being resilient to trauma.”

Tuesday, January 2, 2024 in Fast Company

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