Urban design has became more and more important in recent years, thus turns out a lot of theories of urban design and in all of these theories, there is always one issue that every designer will discuss about which are health and well being. So in this blog, the writer is going to discuss some issues about health and well being in urban design.
Before we talk about it, there are some terminologies we need to figure out. Health – WHO(1948) define health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. Well-being – offers a de-medicalised concept of health (Stratham & Chase, 2010). Therapeutic Landscape – promoting feelings of health and well-being.
Firstly, air pollution is a large concern in urban design and which influences people’s health and well-being. For example, there are smogs in some certain area such as Beijing, China. And the major reason is urban sprawl or called increasing exposure which is happening now in many Chinese cities. We have to face this serious situation when we design urban. The government can encourage some cleaner vehicle technologies or some electric vehicle and increasing active travel.
Secondly, we can’t ignore the relationship between inactivity and health. Inactivity leads to so called sedentary lifestyle. Nike in 2012 wrote that physical activity has decreased more than 30% in last 50 years in US and what’s worse in China, it has dropped 45% in last than 20 years. Sedentary lifestyles can lead to increased obesity and overweight and so on. These terrible situations are happening now especially in UK which can let people have some type 2 diabetes such as heart disease, cancers and sight loss. Also the government will cost much more money in obesity treatment, for example, in UK, the government spend billions on obesity treatment. There are some solutions for that. The research shows that walking just 3km a day and 3 days a week can reduce weight in an adult by 0.5 kilo each week. So we can design some specific environment to encourage people spend more time on physical activities. For example, there is a special route called Green Way in my hometown Xianju in China. It starts from the edge of downtown and ends in the deep area of countryside. The main way is 112 kilometer long. People like go there for walking, running or riding on a bicycle because they can get deep touch with nature and meanwhile they can visit some heritages through this green way. So in that case, people can not only feel the nature but also get some physical excise.
Another solution is creating a walkable neighbourhood for residence. A well-designed pedestrian realm can encourage people spend more time on walking. In that case, that pedestrian needs mixed land-use and public open space, convenient public transport and comfort. Just like Nanjing Road in Shanghai, China. It’s a famous pedestrian road and business road. So visitors will walk in there. We also need neighbourhood walkability in community. It can increase social interaction and reduce isolation, so residence can feel a sense of belonging. Also they can make more friends when they walk in there. So a well-maintained public realm increases feelings of well-being.
Increasing some public facilities in urban design such as sharing bicycles in China can also encourage people to use them so they can get more excise and meanwhile it can reduce the use of personal cars which can protect environment. Also recycling commuting can reduce BMI, obesity, type 2 diabetes; improved blood pressure (cycling better than walking) (Wen & Rissel, 2008; Pucher et al., 2010).
Increasing green space is always one of the best way in urban design. There are a lot of advantages of green space. Improving people’s mental health and increasing physical activities. People like sit and eat or picnic on green space which can improve social cohesion. The most important and basic advantage is improving air quality. As we all know that vegetation reduces air pollution and capture carbon. Another issue is that green space can reduce urban heat island effects. Also it can be noise buffering especially where traffic level are high. In some way, it can also improve people’s physical health.
In a nutshell, when we design urban form, we need to consider a lot about health and well being. Only in that case, urban design is useful and helpful.
Hartig et al (2014) Nature and health, Annual Review of Public Health, 36 207-228.
Korpela, K.M.,et al., (2010) Favorite green, waterside and urban environments, restorative and perceived health in Finland, Health Promotion International 25 (2) 200-209.
Public Policy Research (2002) Streets Ahead: Safe and liveable streets for children.