How do we design healthy cities for people?
So, have you ever considered how the architecture in your neighborhood, streets, and buildings impact your health? The recent evidence shows the built environment- our buildings, streets and neighborhoods, and their amenities influence the physical activity contributing in both positive and negative ways.
Cities nowadays face public health challenges, from obesity, asthma, mental health issues, heart disease, to wide disparities in life expectancy, streets that discourage walking and biking. During an event in December 2019, UNStudio’s Ben Van Berkel spoke passionately about the digital revolution and the latest technological innovations within the built environment.
“People-centric, green, habitable, natural, placemaking mixing bowls that include human health” – Dan Burden
98% of cities in low and middle-income countries do no meet the air quality standards established by the WHO (World Health Organisations). In high-income countries, this percentage decreases to 56%. By some estimates, cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account approximately for 70% of global CO2 emissions, a figure sure to increase as the global migration from rural to urban areas continues.
To reduce the impact of our cities on the planet, it is necessary to rethink the urban systems and a core examination of what a city is. Although the environments we live in can shape how we feel and our physical health, cities are rarely designed with our wellbeing in mind. With the growing need for healthier cities, architects and planners are wising up to the effect of urban environments on all manner of human health concerns.
Some efficient steps to make cities healthier:
- Go Green: Green is something everyone can opt for. Green spaces reduce aggressive behaviors in struggling neighborhoods, clean polluted air and even significantly improve a person’s sense of wellbeing.
- Mind and Matter: Urban dwellers are at significantly increased risk of depression and anxiety. The pace of modern life is likely to contribute to stress levels and unease, but the spaces in which we live are also a vital part of the puzzle. Melbourne has integrated kindergartens into nursing homes to give elderly people opportunities to help teach the children. Denver has built public booths to let people get worries off their chest while moving through the city.
- No crime: Crime doesn’t affect victims – even the perception of high crime levels increases the risk of depression and poor mental health. The issue of crimes has always be argued upon by the city planners to discourage it. Improving street lighting can be the first task to tackle.
- Safety of Women: Urban planning is generally dominated by men, argued over the fact that cities aren’t designed for women. In the UK 60% of women feel unsafe in public spaces, and more women reported experience fear in urban and rural areas. But it’s not always about fear and safety – a study in Vienna revealed how differently women use urban areas and public transport.
- Children-friendly cities: Cities aren’t designed for children- busy roads, air pollutions, puzzling streets can make it a danger for children and teens. A building playground isn’t enough – In Ghent, city planners laid red-brick pavements connecting playgrounds, youth clubs and schools to help kids navigate the city.
All of the subsystems that exist in the city need to work together and integrate into creating a smart city. Energy-efficient transportations, communication, and clean energy are just some of the parts that contribute towards the healthy city.
Following are some of the most important steps a city can follow:
- Choose clean energy: Replace environmental pollutants with renewable energy (solar, wind, electric) for a smart city. When combined with smart grids, it will not only make the city greener and eco-friendly but also sustainable.
- Improving mass transit: A part of making cities healthier lies in reducing air pollution. By upgrading the mass transit and infrastructure like public transportation, it will help in reducing traffic on the roads and reduce pollution.
- Investing in Digital Health: Digital health provides people with opportunities for taking an active role in healthcare through digital applications. Technology no has become sophisticated to transmit the information over the internet, while also allowing patients to stay on top of their health.
- Implemented IoT: Internet of things encompasses many elements that make a city smart. From digital bus stops displaying schedules in real-time, to garbage bins fitted with sensors to track trash, to city-wide sensors for tracking noises and environmental pollution. IoT can link all the necessary elements of a smart city together through technology into a unique platform, improving efficiency into a unique platform.
Throughout this digital age of century, today’s urban life can have severe negative impacts on our health if not mitigated. Take for example Wuhan’s Coronavirus, it has already infected about 14,000 people globally and China. WHO has announced a global health emergency due to the increase in cases of Coronavirus.
If not now, then when?
Taking a step back, looking at the increasing population in our urban areas, we need to mitigate the effects of smart technology and green thinking. The simple fact of living in a city and not giving necessary actions to it, these health risks will keep rising and are avoidable. When a smart city becomes the norm, future generations will be guaranteed to have a healthy and sustainable city.
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