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How To Design Urban Environments that Promote Health?

The World Health Organization posted a recent article that illustrates how some innovations in urban design can achieve to promote health for people. Normally cities are associated with pollution, lack of physical health which leads to the “increase in noncommunicable diseases”.

In this context, experts in the field gathered at the Who Urban Design for Health online symposium and shared ideas, success stories and other urban projects that are having success in Europe.

Let’s review some key points:

  • More people, more cars, more pollution: If cities get more crowded, pollution will increase. Erlijn Mulder, strategic advisor for the city of Utrecht, Netherlands, which has been at the forefront of urban design for health affirms that: "hey have learned to cope gradually by working in partnerships with companies, authorities and the people of Utrecht. By investing in greening and public transport, we have attracted investors and companies to Utrecht. The city benefits in all sorts of ways, including economically as well as in terms of health and creating livability.”

  • Active lifestyle: According to studies, physical inactivity leads to an increasing proportion of deaths and disability. This accounts for a high health-care cost and lost productivity. So it is imperative to encourage an active lifestyle, within the urban scenario. Lucy Saunders, founder of Healthy Streets, a consultancy based in London that works with cities worldwide, points that the major challenge regarding making cities more active has to do with daily people’s routine: “people who are active day in and day out throughout their lives are not necessarily the same people who have access to a lot of sporting facilities or are particularly enthusiastic about sports”. This needs to be taken into account by urban planners and designers.

  • Car free environments: Who Symposium on Urban Design for health focused on producing situations that help cities become more conductive to physical activity and simultaneously other objectives. “In Utrecht, reducing car journeys has had a positive impact on businesses”, because if you walk or cycle the city “it’s a slower journey and you see a lot more. If you see a bouquet of flowers or a farmers' market, it’s so much easier to stop and buy, and stay for a cup of coffee.” Other initiatives were developed such as a planned housing area to the city center that is virtually unreachable due to traffic.

  • Involving citizens for simple solutions: cities should be a lab for all stakeholders to experiment with. . "As a government you must keep everyone involved and ask questions, not just impose solutions”. For example, there are projects in place that have 300 bus stops with bee-friendly gardens on the roofs, " simply because of an idea that one of our partners came up with”. Other policies can also have a great impact in cities such as “reducing the speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 20 on London streets” which experts affirm that “has probably had the biggest impact, since this makes people cycling on those streets feel safe. We're animals, we respond to our sensory environment, and many of us won't cycle if it's noisy or scary.”

At MKThink we are also working on projects that look to involve urban design and planning with the needs of today such as health.

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