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On the lecture presented by professor Tim Townshend on “Salutogenic Cities” were discussed the determinants of health and well-being in neighbourhoods, and how cities got affected when planning became all about the economy and car-focused design.

It is known that where we live, and that environment’s conditions can affect our health. According to the Commission to Build a Healthier America (2008) our neighbourhoods shape our behaviours and influence our health levels, depending on their physical and social environments, as well as their socioeconomic or service conditions.

By the physical environment they mean the environment built by humans and the natural environment. For example, poor air and water quality, proximity to factories that produce hazardous industrial waste, housing that presents lead paint, dust or pest infestation, lack of parks, sidewalks in bad shape, among others. And maybe, there are outdoor spaces for people to exercise, walk, bike or jog, but the existence of graffiti and litter makes it unattractive, or the neighbourhood may have some safety concerns regarding crime and violence.

The neighbourhood conditions affect more some groups of people such as children and elders. According to Mark & Scommegna (2017), older people present more physical, mental and health vulnerabilities, and rely more on community resources as a source of social support. They also state that the conditions of neighbourhood streets and sidewalks directly impact the mobility of older people that have difficulty walking.

The social environment is related to the neighbourhood residents and the relationship between them. Residents with mutual trust and affinity among them can be more integrated in “working together in common goals (Cleaner and safer public spaces), exchanging information (regarding childcare, jobs), and maintaining informal social controls (discouraging crime, smoking and alcohol use among youth, littering…)” (CBHA, 2008)

The service environment includes the assets offered by the neighbourhood in terms of opportunities for employment, education, transportation, health care, recreation, grocery stores, etc. This is because these aspects are directly and indirectly related to the means to “achieve an adequate standard of living now and in the future” (CBHA, 2008). The existence of supermarkets or stores where people can get fresh, healthy food is a very important aspect of this category. With the lack of the before mentioned, people make food choices as a matter of convenience (preferring fast food and low prices), over nutrition.

All this explained before can be summarized on what the Build Healthy Places Network report states:

It has been said that your ZIP code may be more important for your health than your genetic code. This is because factors known as the social determinants of health (such as housing, education, job opportunities, child care, and transportation) can greatly influence your chances of becoming sick and dying early. Your address reflects the daily living conditions that can create—or limit—your opportunities to be healthy

It has already been already described what aspects of a neighbourhood affect its resident’s health and well-being. But now, what can we, urban designers, do to build new neighbourhoods and to transform existing ones into places that promote health and collective well-being?

Project for Public Spaces (2008) based on The Great Neighborhood Book by Jay Walljasper (2007), indicates various key points, which interlay with their principles of Placemaking, that differentiate a “great neighbourhood from a mediocre one”. These are:


  1. Sociability: good places to meet people you know, where you take others to show them your neighbourhood, because they are the heart and soul of it.
  2. Lots of things to do: places that offer a variety of activities.
  3. Comfortable and attractive: good places that attract you to visit them because they offer comfortable benches, flowers, nice view, lighting, etc, that makes the place feel safe and welcoming.
  4. Accessible: places that are easy to enter to, they are easily identifiable from a distance and are easy to understand how to use them.
  5. Inspired by the people who live there, where any project undertaken in a neighbourhood should be guided by the experts, the community on that particular place, not the designers.

The Commission to Build a Healthier America (2008) shows some examples of neighbourhood-level interventions used to improve health by making neighbourhoods healthier. These are:


  • Feet First (Seattle, Washington): This Seattle-area non-profit organization helped neighbourhood residents become involved in improving their neighbourhoods and in more physical activity. They regularly meet with community members to discuss options for improving walking conditions in their neighbourhoods, and also assists citizens in working with city agencies and departments to address neighbourhood concerns.
Image 1: Walk on Earth Day. Source: FEET FIRST BLOG
  • Growing Gardens (Boulder, CO), partners with low-income families to help them meet their food needs and runs two programs targeted to youth. Cultiva! involves at-risk teens in community service while teaching them about business practices and healthy eating; participants tend gardens together, donating most of their produce to those in need while selling the rest at the Boulder Farmers Market. The Children’s Peace Garden educates younger children about gardening and the environment. Growing Gardens also runs programs for disabled and elderly citizens.
Image 2: Community garden programs. Source: Growing Gardens

As it is clear these physical, social and service conditions that determine neighbourhood health aren’t equally distributed across all neighbourhoods. That’s why community development and health sector should work together in order to make sure people have good opportunities within their neighbourhood to make them live better, healthier lives.


-Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Commission to Build a Healthier America (CBHA) (2008). Where We Live Matters for Our Health: Neighborhoods and Health. Available at: (Accessed: 3 January 2019).

– Mather, M., Scommegna, P. (2017). How Neighborhoods Affect the Health and Well-Being of Older Americans. Available at: (Accessed: 3 January 2019).

-Build Healthy Places Network (?). How Do Neighborhood Conditions Shape Health? Available at: (Accessed: 4 January 2019).

-Project for Public Spaces (2008). What makes a neighbourhood great? Available at: (Accessed: 4 January 2019).

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

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