Heart Project

The Role of Urban Planning in Public Health and Wellbeing

The relationship between urban design and human health has been repeatedly established. In fact, research has shown that urban design can influence the greatest challenges to communities’ physical, mental, and social well-being around the globe.

One of today’s biggest health burdens is related to non-communicable diseases, which are one of the main causes of death and disability around the world. They cause 41 million deaths per year, which is equivalent to 74% of all deaths globally (WHO, 2022). A facilitating factor in the development of these non-communicable diseases is the design of urban spaces. In fact, certain designs limit citizens’ ability to live an active daily life, leading to the development of these diseases. Unfavorable urban designs include limited green spaces and open public spaces, transport systems that are not pedestrian-friendly, and restricted pedestrian areas. Urban planning and design, therefore, play a significant role in advancing concrete actions to support healthier environments and behavior in cities, thus improving the health of the population.

The WHO’s report ‘Urban Design for Health’ underlines the importance and influence of urban factors on public health and human behavior. Particularly access to healthy foods and active lifestyles can be facilitated or impeded by urban design and planning, such as building cities in which people choose to walk, cycle and use public transportation, and where citizens have equal access to nutritious, safe, and sustainable foods. The report proposes several tools and approaches to support healthy diets and physical activity, ranging from policy level to concrete design of the environment. Some of these tools, which rely upon data collected from users, include amongst others:

– A smartphone application that will provide users with features to evaluate the quality of public open spaces for physical activity

– An online tool to assess the quality of a place by addressing 14 factors including moving around, streets and spaces, natural space, and play and recreation

– Tools that enable stakeholders to assess, measure and make improvements in the 10 healthy streets indicators

The HEART project welcomes the ‘Urban Design for Health’ report and the way it emphasizes the role of urban planning in public health. HEART will be pleased to offer its tool as a good practice to the WHO report collection. The aim of the HEART project is to provide evidence on the factors influencing public health and wellbeing, including access to blue and green spaces. The findings of the project will then be translated into recommendations that policy-makers, architects, and designers can use in conjunction with the above-mentioned tools when designing urban projects. Blue-Green urban infrastructure would then facilitate the adoption of an active life by citizens, and ultimately reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases among the population. HEART has now deployed the technological solutions produced by HEART in the demo sites – Aarhus, Attica, and Belgrade – to monitor indicators related to public health and wellbeing. At the same time, the consortium is currently measuring the effectiveness of the HEART project’s blue-green interventions in both clinical and non-clinical settings. The last phase will consist of evaluating and validating the implemented blue-green interventions based on various key performance indicators (KPIs), including social, environmental, and urban indicators.


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