I've waited for two months to see if some city government or health official somewhere might respond to Nature magazine's breakthrough article on the urban stressors that exascerbate mental illness.
Regrettably, there is no gravy, corruption, hacking or sex scandal associated with this information.
Otherwise, the piece by Germany-based neurology and schizophrenia expert Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, who's long been concerned that schizophrenia is twice as common among city-raised as country-raised individuals, might be shaking the foundations of urban policy.
Meyer-Lindenberg wrote the article hoping it would encourage brain specialists, psychiatrists and social scientists to weigh in on urban planning of green space and density, issues that intrigue him as possible explanations.
His argument evokes pioneering research by "biophilic" (nature-loving) educators and building designers who believe all people need access to the natural environments in which humans evolved and lived for 99 per cent of our history.
Specifically, Meyer-Lindenberg's brain images of volunteers subjected to social stress show that two emotion-processing areas of the brain - the amygdala and the cingulate cortex - work less well in city dwellers to generate inner calm or roll-with-the-punches habits of mind.
Why does his research change the conversation? In the moralistic world humans inhabit, the external environment is only blamed for bad outcomes if they can't be explained by an individual's shortcomings or lack of discipline.
By identifying typical urban environments as culprits in mental health disorders, Meyer-Lindenberg opens the door to new civic obligations to protect our well-being.
Estimates from the 2008 report on Chronic Diseases In Canada put the full medical and non-medical costs of mental illness at $51 billion a year. If density or land-use policies could reduce the toll of disease by even a modest amount, savings in money and suffering would be substantial.
Before I say how this might be accomplished, I'll tell you about last week. I had a computer problem because of exasperatingly impersonal service from Bell at the same time I was packing for a canoe trip. Due to my excessively urban surround, my amygdala, and especially my cingulate cortex, supposed to manage negative emotions, weren't firing.
It was an experience I took along to think about during a trip to the wilderness area of Killarney Park led by Debbie Field and Dave Kraft of Beautiful North.
Canoe trips require hours of strenuous exercise that make a recognized contribution to mental and physical well-being. The absence of plugs for TV or computers in the great outdoors alters the psyche and minimizes stress, the key mental illness trigger. Though an understanding of the human brain can be helpful, our understanding of the basic preconditions for mental health depends more on common sense than rocket science or brain surgery.
Nature is anything but quiet, but the sounds of life in the woods are more soothing and harmonious, less grinding and jerky than those I'm used to. Nature is anything but clean, neat, gleaming and bright, but the repetitive (fractal) patterns of leaves and waves are as soothing as the earth-toned shades of rock and land.
Eating and breathing, we feel the world deep within us, not outside. And gazing into the night sky at the Milky Way, we gain perspective on daily hassles and feel bathed in the spirit of thanking our lucky stars.
The multi-purpose scarves most canoeists wear around their necks, much like the Swiss Army knives around makeshift tables, provide clues as to how we might come to our senses back in the city.
The scarf makes sure we don't become rednecks by protecting us from too much exposure to the sun. It can be dipped in the water to keep heads cool. It can be wrapped around hands holding hot handles of pots. It can wipe tables. In an emergency, it can be a tourniquet. It's a multi-tasker.
City planning has to be the same. Once planners understand that mental health, human scale and biophilic design are in their planning mandate, they can start looking for spaces and functions that are the urban equivalent of the Swiss Army knife. This is where urban agriculture, with its food creation, storing of carbon, reuse of rainwater, etc, shines and pays down the high cost of land.
Sensitivity to psychological stressors might also occasion a rethink of the need for urban green, school curricula to deal with what Richard Louv calls a nature deficit disorder among children, and living-machine architecture like green roofs and walls.
These changes address a central paradox: cities are powerhouses because they concentrate so many people and functions in so little space, creating opportunities for cooperation and large-scale production.
This great strength is countered by a great fragility - an overbuilt and overly structured hothouse environment, cement-covered, harsh in dealing with deep human longings. To mitigate such hard edges, we need to bring the urbanscape into harmony with mental health. Figuring out this kind of stuff is what brains are good for; now we know it's also what brains need.
With files from Brian Cook.