Institute of Archaeology

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First for Archaeology in UK 2015

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Changing London: Town Planning from a Human Evolutionary Perspective


AD-BC: Adopting Deep Behavioural Change

Deep Past: archaeologists uncover the prehistoric origins of modern London on the Thames foreshore (Photo courtesy of Nathalie Cohen, Thames Discovery Programme)

This research project aims to improve urban wellbeing, working with the pioneering concept of the Evolutionary Determinants of Health.

The focus is on fundamental issues, why we think and act as we do. The premise we progress is that our bodies and brains still retain attributes and drives of our ancient ancestors: autonomically, instinctively, unconsciously and subconsciously they impact significantly on our daily lives to a far greater degree than is often realised.

For some six million years, the hunter-gatherer communities from which we are all descended adapted to a life revolving around small-scale tribal societies related to specific territories; close engagement with the natural world, particular diets and activity regimes. Our modern, sedentary urban culture, with its impersonal populations, concrete jungles, processed food and dependence on advanced technology, could not be more different. There is therefore a profound dichotomy between the world we currently live in, and the one we were genetically, metabolically, physiologically and psychologically designed for.

To help resolve this conundrum - with all its inherent physical and mental health issues - this innovative but integrated approach to urban wellbeing is being developed. It shows that modern urban lifestyles and indeed the towns themselves can be adapted and reconfigured to more closely respond to the deep demands and drives that reflect our evolutionary origins, leading to quantifiably-enhanced urban wellbeing.

AD-BC: Changing London

Five London-based case studies are being promoted in our research on the Evolutionary Determinants of Health. They all approach different but related issues, working from the same evolutionary standpoint. They focus on:

  • Personal Wellbeing
  • Institutional Wellbeing
  • Tribes, Territories and Criminality
  • Health Education in Schools
  • Town Planning from a Human Evolutionary Perspective
    This fifth case study looks at the inter-related issues of modern domestic buildings, public buildings, urban greenspace, pedestrianisation, provision of sports facilties, public/private transportation policies and infrastructure. Related initiatives and concepts are being drawn from Landscape Urbanism, Ebenezer Howard’s development of Garden Cities in the late 19th century, the visionary Peckham Experiment here in London in the 1930s, and the Healthy Cities movement that originated in Toronto in 1984.

Related outputs

  • Inter-departmental/ cross-faculty workshops will be run to develop these ideas, followed by a major conference CHANGING LONDON, provisionally scheduled for November 2013. This event will promote the ideas at a venue to which academics, town planners, architects and policy makers will be invited. The papers presented will be published in hard copy and online. 

Funding

Image caption: Deep Past: archaeologists uncover the prehistoric origins of modern London on the Thames foreshore (Photo courtesy of Nathalie Cohen, Thames Discovery Programme)

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