Four steps towards a healthier city
The first lecture, presented by Tim Townshend, provided us with an in depth look into the field of urban design. Firstly delving into key texts and theories within the UK / Western context and understanding the different dimensions of the field, one of which included the link between health and urban design.
It is far too simple to reduce the complex issue of health and wellbeing to mere articles that remind people of what to do and what not to do, when cities could be designed in such a way to help people actively choose wisely. According to the “Urban design for health: inspiration for the use of urban design to promote physical activity and healthy diets in the WHO European Region” report, urban design has a direct correlation with health “by limiting or providing access to healthy foods and active lifestyles, which have profound effects on people’s physical and mental health.” (Santos, 2022).
This phenomena was discovered from new research from the US, demonstrating that disease is inevitable. These can come in the form of health related diseases but also lifestyle choices, a prime example being the excessive use of the automobile, which through the expulsion of their exhaust fumes can directly lead to health complications. As such, urban planners and architects alike devise ways to overcome these problems, for instance Gehl who emphasizes movement through a pedestrian and cycle-centric city.
Health and urban planning have been interlinked since the early ages, namely in Ancient Greece, where a sanctuary in Epidaurus was put in place. The below picture depicts what appears to be an amphitheatre when it is in fact a place of healing where people could receive blessings from the Gods. Should you have fallen sick, the God would visit you in your dreams, after which you’d report to the priest, who would prepare a cure for you based on the dream. During the recovery process one could attend a theatrical performance in a location that was deliberately picked for its scenic elements, deep in the lush valleys with views of the sea, away from civilization (Brierley, n.d.).
Figure 1: Sanctuary in Epidaurus
The Four Steps
More than 2000 years later, the concept of “integrative wellness” has once again gained traction. Under this template, mind is equally important to the body and treatments should focus on the whole person. On a similar note, there has been a surge of interest in creating healthy environments and ways of providing healthcare beyond an institutional setting, much like the Maggie’s Centres. With that being said, I would like to outline ways in which said ways can be executed (Brierley, n.d.).
Figure 2: First Parklet, Douglas Street, Cork, Ireland
As Cork is an automobile-oriented city lacking in green space, air quality was inevitably a problem, additionally, outdoor spaces for physical activity were limited. The solution therefore was to integrate public benches with greenery into the urban fabric, promoting opportunities for public interaction (Mythen-Lynch, 2019).
Figure 3: Grenville Gardens Allotment
Located in Islington, London, the Grenville Gardens Allotment project was student-led, aiming to empower and reconnect the community to reclaim its local park. Consisting of 18 wooden planting boxes, each constructed and stewarded by a local family. As part of the assembly process each family were presented a step-by-step guide to constructing their allotment box tailored to individual needs through varied heights. The result truly reflected the diversity and eclecticism of the Islington community and its residents. (Wood, 2012).
Figure 4: Jardim de chuva do centro cultural fundiçao progresso, Rio de Janeiro
Addressing the impermeability of the urban landscape, rain gardens are put in place to reduce the flow rate, quantity and pollutant load of stormwater runoff. This method is primarily used to treat urban runoff through the use of plants, stones or other natural elements. In 2019, however, the first rain garden in Rio was installed at the Fundiçao Progresso Cultural Centre where a concrete sidewalk in front of the building was removed in favour of 200sqm of green space and eventually became a community based activity (Ghisleni, 2022).
Figure 5: Fulton Street, Chicago
Beginning in 2015 after a multimillion dollar investment into the project, the project, which concluded in July 2021 included new widened stone and concrete sidewalks, urban furniture comprising of benches and bike racks, new drainage system, parking and more. This work stretched from N Halsted Street all the way to N Ogden Avenue to the west and is designed to preserve the area’s historic character (Achong, 2022).
Overall, it seems as though paving the way to a healthier city does not come at a hefty cost, both economically and sustainably, and that such improvements can no doubt have a profound effect on the city. That being said, it does make me wonder why many cities do not employ these cost-effective methods knowing that they can greaty improve life.
Achong, I. (2022). City Council Approves New Pedestrian Streets In West Loop. [online] Chicago YIMBY. Available at: https://chicagoyimby.com/2022/01/city-council-approves-new-pedestrian-streets-in-west-loop.html [Accessed 5 Nov. 2022].
Brierley, M. (n.d.). Architecture of Wellbeing. [online] Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL). Available at: https://www.rosl.org.uk/rosl_news/933-architecture-of-wellbeing.
Ghisleni. (2022). 6 Urban Design Projects With Nature-Based Solutions. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/964460/6-urban-design-projects-with-nature-based-solutions.
Mythen-Lynch, K. (2019). An adorable pop-up park has been installed on Douglas Street. [online] Yay Cork. Available at: https://www.yaycork.ie/an-adorable-pop-up-park-has-been-installed-on-douglas-street/ [Accessed 2 Nov. 2022].
Santos, (2022). Using Urban Design To Promote Physical Activity And Healthy Diets In The WHO European Region – Health Policy Watch. [online] Available at: https://healthpolicy-watch.news/urban-design-factors-who-europe/ [Accessed 1 Nov. 2022].
Wood, H. (2012). Grenville Gardens allotment project exemplifies community urban growing. [online] The Architects’ Journal. Available at: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/archive/grenville-gardens-allotment-project-exemplifies-community-urban-growing [Accessed 2 Nov. 2022].