Healthy Cities & Urban Planning
Date published 25 August 2020
Across the globe, more and more people are choosing to live in urban areas as opposed to rural areas. Cities and urban areas are attractive to people as they often provide more opportunities for employment, and access to better services such as health and education. On the surface, cities may appear to hold a lot of benefits, but it is also true that they can pose unique health threats.
In this article, we explore the concept of a “healthy city” and why it is so important for Governments, Councils, and urban design planners to consider. We’ll also explore what makes a city “healthy” and how communities can work together to improve the health of their city.
What makes a healthy city?
The term “Healthy City” is often used in public health and in urban design planning to describe the importance of health in a community. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), urbanisation is one of the biggest challenges for public health in the 21st Century. The rapid urbanisation of areas can lead to overcrowding as well as a lack of access to safe water and sanitation. This can lead to the spread of diseases, violence, and mental illness.
WHO defines a healthy city as one that “continually creates and improves physical and social environments and expands community resources…[to] enable people to mutually support each other…[to] perform [in] all functions of life and develop their maximum potential.”
Managing and planning urbanisation needs to become a priority so that the health of residents and health equity of a city grows. WHO predicts that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. This stresses the importance of ensuring that the cities they reside in are healthy and liveable.
How can we make a city healthy?
WHO agrees that health promotion and the health of a city is not only the responsibility of the health sector. They recognise that local council members also have a big role to play in the health equity of city.
In 2016 at the 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion, WHO acknowledged that local Mayors play a crucial role in creating healthy urban environments due to the increasing urbanisation of the world’s population. They deemed that the ‘health’ of a city does not only depend on the current health infrastructure (such as the number of hospitals and doctors surgeries) but on the commitment to improving the city’s environment and the willingness to develop connections in the political, economic and social arenas.
Local councils can work together with urban planners to highlight key components of healthy cities such as:
- Community participation
- Empowerment and
Through proper town planning and prioritisation of resources, healthy cities aim to:
- Create a health-supportive environment
- Achieve a good quality of life
- Provide basic sanitation and hygiene needs
- Supply access to health care
The impact of COVID-19 on healthy cities
There is no doubt that the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the structural weaknesses of global health systems, particularly in urban areas. Various cities across the globe are dealing with the lack of existing health and well-being infrastructure and inadequate preventative health mechanisms, particularly for the most vulnerable in our communities.
Even countries and communities that are seemingly wealthy, have suffered at the hands of the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the United States has seen hypertension, depression and high cholesterol affect the quality of life in cities and suburbs. With the pandemic, these health conditions have taken a turn for the worse.
As we begin to deal with a post-pandemic world, Governments, Councils, and urban planners are left questioning how we can plan and manage our cities to minimise the risk of disease and ensure equitable access to healthcare in the future?
The importance of healthy cities will only grow in the coming years as more people settle down in urban areas. Other challenges such as climate change and growing social disintegration are also important factors that need to be considered in future planning. Governments, Councils, and urban planners have an important role to play within their community. Not only are they relied upon for providing the right resources for their community, but also for the creation and promotion of health and the health equity of their city.