A Global Village
Issue 6 » Cities

Development of Healthy And Sustainable Cities:

A Multidisciplinary Approach

Sirinath Jamieson, Imperial College London

A lack of proper understanding of sustainable and integrated development amongst government officials and building professionals, particularly in fast-developing regions with high rates of urbanization, is leading to health, societal and economic issues often being tackled independently, rather than cohesively.

The adoption of a multidisciplinary approach to developing healthy and sustainable cities through architectural urban planning and management is needed. This approach aims to raise the awareness of the design professions to the evolving concept of sustainable development, and the interconnected elements required for the development of sustainable healthy cities.

Sustainable development has focused in the past primarily on economics and the environment, described back in 1987 as: “...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.1

The concept of sustainable development grew during the following decade, with international focus on the issue cumulating in the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. The final programme, the so-called Agenda 21, is seen as the 21st Century roadmap for sustainable development for all nations. How does this strategy apply to the design of urban environments?

Most designers refer to the 1987 definition of sustainable development in their design concepts, with architectural design for health developing separately. Indeed, health and social issues are often not prioritised by business and urban design sectors, although most policies, such as Agenda 21, Health for All2 and WHO Healthy Cities projects, have included and emphasised the desire to integrate these factors in addition to creating economically sustainable development.

The WHO Healthy City project suggested a conceptual model of sustainable development on the basis of equilibrium, livability, and sustainability of relationships between environmental, economic, social factors, as well as integrating healthy sustainable development3. This model was further referred to in the later European Sustainable Development and Health Series4,5. This concept, adapted from the WHO models, is applied here as an alternative design approach to the building of sustainable cities through environmental and medical sciences, technologies, urban design, engineering and urban management.

Urban Design
Health and sustainability should be employed in town planning and urban design at project conception. City orientation should be analysed taking into account with the sun path and wind direction for the latitude in question, with buildings and landscaping designed and orientated correctly to maximise the air quality and potentially reduce traffic accidents.

Guidelines from Agenda 21 should also be implemented when improving urban planning of existing cities. Urbanisation in Bayamo City, Cuba, over the past 60 years had led to a disorganised and spontaneous expansion of the city that could not keep up with its rapid population growth. However, inspired by the Local Agenda 21 initiative, the city has adopted new planning approaches to develop non-motorised urban mobility, improve municipal waste management and enhance river water quality through integrated hydrographic basin management6.

Zoning analysis for industrial, residential, commercial and public areas including parks, hospitals, offices and schools should take into account geological, meteorological and ecological factors. In the planning of industrial zones and waste treatment sites, for example, such analysis would help through reducing air pollution from the secondary source reaching residences. Sustainability can also be gained through appropriate zoning that optimises travel routes to balance energy consumption and pollution concentrations in built-up areas.

Site and building history should be examined for sources of potential contaminants (i.e. previous petrol stations or landfill sites) and should also take into consideration geological factors (i.e. radon concentrations). Pollution prevention and mitigation measures in addition to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA/SEA) should be integrated into the planning strategies of city developments.

Urban design should
make air quality
t measures a priority

Traffic and circulation are major criteria taken into consideration in urban planning for which analysis of meteorological factors should be considered. Policies on pedestrian and vehicle zones should not be based on only commercial locations, traffic control and wind direction, but also other factors such as, air pollution dispersion, temperature, humidity, and possible weather conditions.

It is also important to recognise the impact of transport on the spread on communicable diseases. For example, using epidemiological data from various neighbourhoods, researchers7 modelled the transmission of tuberculosis on bus networks in Buenos Aires. The model provides a useful framework for understanding the complex interactions of individuals within an urban environment.

We Are What We Breathe
The landscape design of micro- and macro-environments should incorporate meteorological analysis to screen or diminish air and noise pollution from industry and traffic where possible. Public transportation and zoning should seek to minimise pollutant exposures to residences on both local and regional scales. The ratio of terrain to building areas should be suitable to allow sunlight and plants to effectively reduce toxicity in the urban air.

Urban design should make air quality enhancement measures a priority. The appropriate use of trees, plants, landscaping features and fountains can greatly help improve the quality of the air, removing airborne toxins and reducing noise pollution. Natural daylight can also help reduce concentrations of airborne microbes in cities, whilst trees and earth-berms help filter the air at street canyons and reduce noise pollution.

Pollution control policy, land-use and zoning control, traffic circulation planning and urban management, as well as sustainability, can be integrated into planning legislation as a public health measure. Vernacular architecture, aesthetics, local and ethnic requirements should be also included in the urban planning policy.

Constructing a Sustainable Environment
The effects of urban planning, engineering and management can all have a major impact on individuals’ health and fitness levels as well as pollution exposure levels. Providing sufficient properly planned community social, play and green areas can significantly help reduce anti-social behaviour and crime rates, while enhancing a sense of community.

The development of healthy and sustainable cities through architectural urban planning and management under a multidisciplinary approach is needed to create and develop healthy and sustainable cities.

The article originally appeared in the Proceedings of the 22nd Union of International Architects 2005 Congress (UIA 2005).

Sirinath Jamieson is an architect (registered in Thailand), engineer, environmental scientist and honorary research associate in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Imperial College London.

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[1]    Bruntland G., ed. (1987) Our common future: The World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[2]    WHO (1992). Health for all targets – the health policy for Europe. European Health for All Series, No. 4.
[3]    Hancock, T. (1996) Planning and creating healthy and sustainable cities: the challenge for the 21st century. In: Price, C. & Tsouros, A., eds. (1996) Our cities, our future: policies and action plans for health and sustainable development. WHO Healthy Cities Project Office, Copenhagen.
[4]    WHO (1997) Sustainable development and health: concepts, principles and framework for action for European cities and towns. European Sustainable Development and Health Series, No 1.
[5]    WHO (1997) City planning for health and sustainable development. European Sustainable Development and Health Series, No. 2.
[6]    UNHABITAT (2008) Improving urban planning through localising Agenda 21: results achieved in Bayamo, Cuba. SCP Documentation Series, Volume 6.
[7]    Capurro, A. F., Zellner, M. L. & Castillo-Chavez C. (1998) Public Transportation and the Transmission of air-borne communicable diseases. Documento de trabajo N° 20. University of Belgrano.