The health of individuals and that of communities is determined in no small degree by the built environment surrounding us all. Developing healthy communities therefore remains a critical step in ensuring our survival.
For this reason, urban planners and land developers have always emphasized cohesive urban planning around the health and welfare of the citizens. Most of these urban transformations have taken decades to emerge, while many have evolved to respond to immediate needs.
In the last century, healthy communities were primarily designed to handle problems that pertained to diverse population groups and diseases have pushed ahead better planning strategies to improve the wellbeing of all citizens. Certainly, 2020 has been a year to rethink again our methods and practices as urban planners and specially to reconsider healthier habits equally impacting humans and the environment.
The core focus of urban and suburban planning has been the optimal utilization of available land to meet a growing population’s needs. Since cities have traditionally been the hubs of industrial activity, development in these areas has often resulted in close-proximity population pockets.
Rising populations and scarcity of resources has led to growing pressure on the planet, which has had a negative effect on urban planning. The degradation in urban air quality, lack of proper sanitation, and the absence of clean water supply are just some of the many problems that we’ve been grappling with.
Sadly, suburbia too hasn’t been fully immune to the effects of planning that focuses on mere cosmetic development. This has naturally led to a degradation of the quality of life in general, and of the vulnerable populations in particular.
In recent years, the creation of five to ten minute walking communities that allow residents to live, work and play in the surroundings, became the standard for a contemporary healthy community, this sustainable method helped reduce the effects of climate change, together with the implementation of new technologies to achieve net zero homes and buildings in general.
The novel coronavirus has turned out to be a new challenge for urban planners to rethink the concept of building healthy communities. Today we need to perform detailed age-group evaluations, seek out better methods of population density spread, and make an effort to balance the natural and human-made environments.
The present cityscape has undoubtedly done its bit to exacerbate the spread of the disease. Closely packed residences and lack of proper health facilities have become once again the perfect environment for COVID outbreaks.
In this regard, planners need to work in close cooperation with land developers to help improve the quality of outdoor living, provide the communities with services and amenities that support the local economy and reduce our footprint in the environment.
In light of the pandemic we encountered, the World Health Organization (WHO) together with + UN-HABITAT has created a framework of guidelines in planning for Integrating Health in Urban and Territorial Planning. These parameters will act as a guidebook for planners, builders, health professionals, and all community stakeholders in creating healthy communities, allowing all of us achieve better and healthier environments in a sustainable and practicable manner.
Some of the guidelines included in the sourcebook highlight the following:
The guidelines are in effect, a multidimensional operation. Some suggestions of multiple measures for integrating health in urban and suburban communities would be to include active travel, to introduce age-friendly or child-friendly development initiatives, and regional economic resilience strategies.
According to the sourcebook, there are four dimensions of planning for health in urban and territorial planning, as described below.
This involves the essential planning and legislative standards that need to be enacted to avoid health risks. One of the necessary measures can be the enforcement of proper water and sanitation standards.
Another critical aspect of this segment would be the sustainable and safe management of hazardous substances in and around urban and suburban communities. This includes the safe disposal of medical waste, industrial effluents, and even domestic waste materials.
This dimension advocates creating planning codes that work to limit environments that promote inequality. Examples of such measures include limiting isolated developments, reducing private-vehicle use, and ensuring the availability of high-quality yet affordable housing.
The third dimension requires the development of spatial frameworks that work to enable healthier lifestyles. This might include planning and construction that encourages growth, is compact, and has access to all transport facilities.
The final dimension involves building health into the very fabric of the urban development process. In addition to the need to plan the new “cohort’ communities, it is necessary to study the relationship with multiple partners to strengthen co-benefits through systematic holistic approaches in planning for regional economic resilience.
Taken together, these four dimensions will direct planners and land developers in being more aware than ever about the physical as well as mental health of residents of all age-groups.
Healthier environments for living and thriving have always been our objective at the Nadi Group. We are dedicated to working in close connection with land developers to balance the built and natural environments and possess the required expertise to consistently provide innovative solutions. Some examples include:
The Nadi Group empowers developers to create a future for people that is healthy and sustainable using innovative urban and suburban planning.
Visit www.unhabitat.org to find out more about the sourcebook.