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Raising the bar on improving the public’s health at Healthy City Design International Congress 2019

17th April 2020

This year the theme of the annual Healthy City Design International Congress, ‘Designing for utopia or dystopia? People and planetary health at a crossroads’, reflects a tipping point in which people’s health and wellbeing are becoming a central consideration in healthy city design and place-making. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a healthy city as “one that is continually creating and improving those physical and social environments and expanding those community resources which enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life and developing to their maximum potential”. Policy makers and practitioners have always understood these relationships between the quality of the physical built and natural environment with people’s physical and mental wellbeing. But actions have been piecemeal. Concerns for air pollution, poor mental health, rising obesity, lack of physical activity and community disempowerment in the place-making process have reached a tipping point. There is now an increasing commitment for a concerted effort to building a healthier 21st century city.  

In recognising the many relationships it takes to create a healthy city, the Congress provided 20 sessions of around 89 presentations and workshops for participants to hear and absorb the range of research, policy development and practice. From healthy new towns and neighbourhoods to designing for mental wellbeing, there was a wealth of expertise and knowledge which participants had access to. Many, if not all of the sessions, touched upon issues that were of interest to Emerald’s Open Research Platforms.

In order to realise visions of healthy cities, there was a clear indication that non-built environment professions such as artists, musicians and public health, for example through Public Health England Healthy Places programme, will need to work more effectively with architects, planners, housebuilders and engineers.

The evidence of what works is overwhelming and the onus is now on all those with a stake and responsibility in planning, designing, building and managing our neighbourhoods, towns and cities to take the appropriate course of action and change the status quo. This move towards a whole systems, cross-disciplinary and life course approach to healthy city design and place-making for everyone and anyone, including our natural environment, means that we should all be able to live and thrive on this planet in a sustainable and healthy way. Participation in future Healthy City Design International Congresses will help to keep the healthy cities agenda high up on the civic agenda, and these calls for action will only work if everyone takes small but meaningful action in our daily professional settings

Michael Chang

Programme Manager - Planning and Health, Healthy Places
Public Health England

Michael Chang