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Urban design principally focuses on people. Therefore, we look after the mental, physical and social well-being of individuals. The physical environment looks at both, the space and place quality. These in turn, impact our social behaviour and interaction with others (Barton et al, 2010).

Inspired by ‘Urban Design Health, Wellbeing, Flourishing’ by Timothy Townshend. I will look at the main issues of inactive lifestyles, that have raised health related illnesses across the country. Alongside, researching practical design solutions to mitigate these problems.

Car dependency

As the UK’s housing needs rapidly increases, due to low-densities, facilities and services become further away. Therefore, the car inadvertently becomes the main source of transport for people to get from A to B. We use it for:

  • Going to work;
  • Food and general shopping;
  • The daily school runs and;
  • Any other impulses that require travel.


We spend a long period of time inside our vehicles, resulting in inactive and minimal movement. Furthermore, our inactivity has been evidenced by a survey conducted by the Guardian. It states that half of adults walk less than a mile a day, as many say there isn’t enough time due to work and travelling, whilst others say they do not feel safe (theguardian, 2017b). Therefore, the built environment should play a role in bringing opportunities to be active to residents, encouraging movement and improving overall wellbeing.

Walking around green space (1)


Greater access and cheap fast food outlets, have led to higher obesity and a sharp increase in Diabetes. However, from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), they illustrate that 1kg of fruit and vegetables is cheaper than a £1 cheeseburger (IEA, 2017), meaning healthy foods are more financially viable than fast food. On the other hand, the growing number of fast food retail in England, is more than 56,000 (theguardian, 2017a), with a greater concentration of fast food, near deprived areas, some people are forced to travel further to reach supermarkets or shops that sell healthy food.

Fast food concentration in the UK (2)



Today, the UK is over 10 years late on meeting its EU air quality targets (National Audit Office, 2017) , as we utilise large amounts of electricity at home, resulting in large quantities of COand NO(HMGovernment, 2015). Car ownership in the UK, has risen to 36.7 million vehicles (HMGovernment, 2016) and pollution from power plants, has also increased because of our rising population.

Car pollution from UCSUSA (3)

Pollution is responsible for 30,000 premature deaths each year (UCSUSA, 2008). Additionally, the impact of pollution on our health can range from:

  • Heart Disease;
  • Cancer;
  • Dementia;
  • Cardiac Arrest;
  • Asthma Attacks and;
  • Type 2 Diabetes


These combined, pose a serious risk to damaging our health and the environment.

Using built environment

Focusing on design solutions, it is practical to implement an active environment that promotes better wellbeing and happiness. Although these solutions are not new, it is a result of poor strategic planning and focus on road infrastructure, that has influenced people’s behaviour (Barton et al, 2010).

There are a variety of practical solutions to encourage active living and reduce health hazards. They are:

  • Placing carbon capture plants around areas with a high concentration of NO2 and CO2 
  • Creating more green roofs to harvest vegetables and fruit, resulting in activity and interaction with the community and;
  • Inclusion of design criteria, which includes:
  1. High density to bring houses and retail closer together,
  2. Walkable connected streets that are attractive and inviting,
  3. Mixed land use to encourage walking to essentials facilities and,
  4. High quality shared green space, that can reduce loneliness and promote activity in a safe environment (Jacobs, 1961)


Case Study

This community garden in Edinburgh brings small groups of people together to plant and consume food. They walk from their homes to the garden, whilst making an attractive inclusive green space for the community. This produce is sold to retail, making it economically, socially and physically viable in the long run.

Shared community garden in Edinburgh (4)

Sustainable modes of transportation such as, public transport, cycling and walking, have little to zero emissions with massive health benefits. These range from reduced stress, weight control and lower the risk of Diabetes (Barton et al, 2010).

This promotes greater opportunity for light or heavy exercise, as it is recommended to exercise 150 minutes per week (NHS, 2016). This can be done in a therapeutic landscape, that enhances your hedonic (instant happiness) and eudaemonic (having purpose and meaningful goals) feelings (Urban Design Group, 2018). Therefore, designing a high-quality environment will create opportunities for active travel and provide a stress-free area for people to be closer to nature and others.

What can Designers do?

Planning and design provide the tools, to make or break what happens on the human scale. We therefore, need to think about the people we serves health, as a consequence of our designs. As the size of the challenge is worldwide, alternative and creative solutions that are simple and viable, can help pave the way for a healthy culture of active movement, healthy living and sustainable energy.

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509


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