City dwellers are suffering from increased stress and anxiety, air pollution and obesity. Are urban planners doing something about it?
By AESG: A specialist consultancy and commissioning firm headquartered in Dubai with offices in London and Abu Dhabi.
68% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. Considering the numerous mental and physical health impacts associated with urban living, AESG, a global leading Specialist Engineering and Consultancy practice, has emphasized that it is now vital for Middle East cities to adapt new urban planning approaches that safeguard the future well-being of residents.
Phillipa Grant, Head of Energy and Sustainable Development at AESG said, “Cities impact both the physical and mental health of their residents, with key contributing factors being the access to outdoor spaces, environmental pollution, community connectivity, and safety and security.”
There are detrimental impacts differentiating urban from rural living, including social isolation, increased stress and anxiety, air pollution and obesity.
Dr. Nada Chami, Business Development Manager at Saint Gobain UAE: “There is a misconception that outdoor air pollution is the most problematic, but the truth is that indoor air pollution can be up to 10 times worse. What is needed are well-thought of and sustainable indoor environment designs that create great living places and provide not only good Indoor air quality but also visual comfort, acoustical comfort and thermal comfort.”
The integration and utilisation of technology to enhance design solutions, the creation of communal outdoor spaces to encourage social interactions are part of three key elements in the design of healthy cities.
As exposure to natural surrounding is fundamental to the well-being of urban residents, the design and planning of cities should consider green spaces that allow residents to easily integrate interactions with nature into their daily routine. Given the region's climate hardy desert plants should be considered when landscaping. The importance of parks of all sizes − especially pocket parks that are often cut out of the design process − to increase daily exposure to nature was also highlighted.
Noteworthy is the fact that technologies such as smartphones are minimizing real-world engagements of citizens with each other and their natural surroundings.
Shaun Killa, Design Partner at Killa Design: “While the car is undermining sociability and connectivity of neighbourhoods, so is the mobile phone as people end up being in public spaces often connected with their phones.
Communities need design principles that encourage social interaction. These principles need to extend beyond large public areas to facilitate micro-interactions in small spaces such as in building common areas, stairwells and lifts. In particular is the concept of scaling down communal spaces to increase social interactions.
Urban planners need to give due consideration to public transportation and the connectivity infrastructure provided in cities as ease of mobility can greatly contribute to quality of life and happiness of residents. Furthermore, the arrangement of buildings within city blocks can influence the walkability factor of an area. Pedestrianizing streets, and creating dedicated bicycle networks and pedestrian bridge links may help improve the health of residents by making walking or cycling an easier choice than driving.
“For the principles of healthy and happy city design to be widely incorporated in Middle East cities, they must be embedded in design, rather than considered as a value engineering item,” said Katherine Bruce.
While many urban projects are designed with happiness and well-being in mind, these elements get phased out in the final stages of proposals due to cost, or because they are deemed non-essential.
Killa adds: “Pocket parks, landscaped walkways, public art shaded places of rest are essential requirements in “happy cities” and for Dubai to further improve its happiness index, RTA right-of-way areas should consider further shaded landscape, resting areas and public art in the existing ROW sidewalks in and around the city."