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As of 2018, approximately 55% of the global population live in cities (United Nations, 2018). With this number continuing to incline, so does our risk to various health concerns such as obesity, high blood pressure and chronic disease (Resnik, D., 2010). Study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows where you live can even have an impact on your overall life expectancy (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2018). But who would have thought our urban environment would have so much to do with our personal health?

As cities have evolved, so has our reliance on private vehicles for transportation. Cities today are being built full of freeways, with limited infrastructure for healthier alternatives such as walking and cycling. Several studies show individuals would walk or cycle if safer infrastructure were available (Hull, A., O’Holleran, C., 2014).

Many of the deciding factors to drive are also shown to centre around a level of convivence. But what would happen if this were not to be the case? Several cities are examining this strategy by implementing tolls, car-free zones and better transit opportunities. Car banning in Madrid City Centre is projected to reduce vehicular usage 23-29% (Garfeild, L., 2017).

The World Health Organization has tackled urban health promotion by composing a physical activity planning guide “A Healthy City is an Active City”. Among their vision for a healthy, active City include (Edwards, P., Tsourus, A.2008) :

  • a wide range of accessible and attractive routes for active transport such as cycling and walking and access by foot or bicycle to efficient public transport
  • mixed-use, high-density communities with easy access to destinations such as shops, parks, schools and recreation facilities
  • walkable, attractive neighbourhoods and trail connections between neighbourhoods and;
  • ample green and open spaces for physical activity, sport and enjoying nature

Another element to urban health promotion is simply encouraging a more active lifestyle. This is achieved by providing casual healthy eating and exercise opportunities.

Rome Fruit Vendors
When I was in Rome, I was shocked by the amount of vendors selling fruit and vegetables as street food for the public. Wherever we went in the City, I have no doubt I could find access to healthy eating. This is much different in North America where healthy foods are sparse and generally located in the wealthier neighbourhoods, commonly referred to as “Food Deserts” (Hilmers, A., Hilmers, D., Dave, J., 2012).

Piano Steps, Odeplan Sweeden
A Creative initiative to encourage more stairway use is shown in Odenplan Sweden where public steps were redesigned as musical piano keys. Survey footage shows curious users playfully enjoying the steps over their typical escalator routine (Higby, S., 2009). This little implementation demonstrates how you can change public behavior by providing fun and interesting alternatives.

The full video can be watched here:

When designing cities for health promotion, many do not consider the critical element of mental illness prevention. Numerous studies have found strong correlation between depression and dispersed city living. Often suburban residents are limited in green space, isolated from amenities and less likely to form connections within their communities (Learner, J., 2010). Exposures to such have been linked to sadness and loneliness (The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, 2018).

Pokemon Go as Aid to Wellbeing?
The Centre for Urban Design and mental health wrote a very interesting review of app Pokemon Go as a tool to help urban design improve mental health. Released summer of 2016, Pokemon Go spiked worldwide attracting thousands of users to leave their homes and walk about their cities. “Pokemon hype is really good news as it helps to change peoples’ attitude towards the quality of physical places and (potentially) offers potential to use digital technology to plan, design and maintain our cities for health and wellbeing outcomes. (Knoll, M., Roe, J., 2016)” Further, they examined how developers and urban designers can begin to collaborate on augmented reality gaming to design cities for active engagement amongst secondary populations such as young people (Knoll, M., Roe, J., 2016).


Edwards, P., Tsourus, A. (2008). A Healthy City is an Active City: A Physical Activity Planning Guide. World Health Organization Europe. Retrieved From:

Garfeild, L. (2017). 12 Major Cities That are Starting to Go Car Free> Retrieved From:

Higby, S. (2009). Volkswagen: Fun Theory Piano Staircase. Retrieved from:

Hilmers, A., Hilmers, D., Dave, J., (2012). Neighborhood Disparities in Access to Healthy Foods and Their Effects on Environmental Justice. Retrieved from:

Hull, A,, O’Holleran, C. (2014). Bicycle Infrastructure: Can Good Design Encourage Cycling? Retrieved from:

Knoll, M., Roe, J., (2016). Sanity and Urbanity: Center for Urban Design and Mental Health. Retrieved from:

Learner, J. (2010). How Urban Planning Can Improve Public Health. Retrieved from:

Resnik, D. (2010). Urban Sprawl, Smart Growth and Deliberative Democracy. Retrieved from:

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2018). How Does Where we Live Affects our Opportunity to be Healthy. Retrieved From.

The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health. (2018). How Urban Design Can Impact Mental Health. Retrieved from:

United Nations. (2018). 68% of the World Population Projected to Live in Urban Areas by 2050, UN Says. Retrieved from:

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

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