SD Features
Healthy Cities
Healthy Cities and SD
Healthy Cities:
Lifestyles, Interactions and Well-being

Hari Srinivas
Concept Note Series E-203. September 2023

  • More than half of the world's population now lives in cities. By 2050, two-thirds of the planet will be urban dwellers, and 90% of the shift will happen in Africa and Asia. This trend means that focusing on urban development that benefits people's health is more important than ever.

  • Good Health and Well-being: According to WHO, a healthy city is one that is "continually creating and improving its physical and social environments and expanding community resources which enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life and in developing to their maximum potential".


  • The UN's Sustainable Development Goal #3 aims to " ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages". It targets, for example, a one-third reduction in deaths attributable to noncommunicable diseases, by 2030. Indicators and targets of SDG#11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities also play an important role in creating and sustaining a healthy city.

  • "Healthy city" is a term used in public health and urban design to stress the impact of urban development policy on human health. The Healthy Cities approach is based on the concept that the social, economic and physical environments are key to the health of urban dwellers. Urbanization has brought about significant changes to the lifestyle and living environment of city dwellers.

  • A key feature of the Healthy Cities concept is ensuring that the social determinants of health are taken into consideration in urban design and urban governance. The social determinants of health are the conditions that influence individual and group choices towards good health status. Therefore, the concept of Healthy Cities is closely related to a higher quality of life and well-being

  • While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to make a fundamental rethink of our lifestyles and consumption choices, creating a healthy urban living environment is an important priority that lies at the core of any future policy, and will capacitate governmental and non-governmental entities working with the civil society, to better be able to handle pandemics in the future.

  • A healthy city aims to provide:
    • a clean, safe physical environment of high quality
    • an ecosystem that is stable now and sustainable in the long term
    • a strong, mutually supportive, and non-exploitative community
    • a high degree of participation in and control by the citizens over the decisions affecting their lives, health and well-being
    • the meeting of basic needs (food, water, shelter, income, safety and work) for all the city's people
    • access by the people to a wide variety of experiences and resources, with the chance for a wide variety of contact, interaction and communication
    • a diverse, vital and innovative economy
    • connectedness with the past, with the cultural and biological heritage of city dwellers and with other groups and individuals
    • a form that is compatible with and enhances the preceding characteristics
    • an optimum level of appropriate public health and sickness care services, accessible to all
    • high health status (high levels of positive health and low levels of disease)
The primary determinant of good health has always been our lifestyles - how we live, the choices we make, our daily life patterns, and the food we eat. What kinds of lifestyles should we lead for a healthy life? As humans we have benefited and indeed thrived from living together in groups and communities and the various interactions that can result from living together. How can we facilitate community interactions to improve our overall livability and health, particularly in cities where most of us live? The practicing of healthy habits daily lies at the core of attaining better health and overall well-being. This is particularly true for keeping our homes and neighborhoods clean and free from wastes that can lead to bad health. What well-being habits do we need to cultivate to keep our neighborhoods clean?

The GDRC reseacrh focus on Healthy Cities uses the above three keywords - lifestyles, interactions and well-being - as an inspiration to carry out research on the themes:
  1. Food and Healthy Lifestyles
  2. Livability and Community Interactions
  3. Clean Neighborhoods and Well-being
Lifestyles Food and Healthy Lifestyles
Food consumption and our daily diet habits remains at the core of a healthy city, which includes the broader concepts of urban food security, food production and consumption systems, food waste et al. What can we do to develop food security systems that enable and promote healthy lifestyles?
Interactions Livability and Community Interactions
Sedentary urban lifestyles with minimal contact with others has significantly reduced "happiness levels" and livability in our cities. The need to create a living environment that facilitates active urban lifestyles and interactions is becoming even more pertinent. How can we re-envision our neighborhoods to facilitate community interactions and better livability?
Well-being Clean Neighborhoods and Well-being
Urban lifestyles and consumption patterns have generated a wide variety and volume of wastes that have challenged local governments in their management capacity, but also seriously affected the health of urban residents and the environmental quality of their neighborhoods. What strategies will help us keep our neighborhoods clean, and contribute to our overall Well-being?

Healthy Cities: Facts and Figures
  • Urbanization and Health:

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over half of the world's population currently lives in urban areas, and this number is expected to reach 68% by 2050.

    Rapid urbanization brings both opportunities and challenges for health. While cities offer access to healthcare, education, and job opportunities, they also face issues like air pollution, inadequate sanitation, and sedentary lifestyles.

  • Physical Activity and Urban Design:

    A study published in The Lancet found that physical inactivity is responsible for around 5.3 million deaths worldwide each year. Designing cities with walkable infrastructure, cycling paths, and access to recreational spaces can promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior.

    Research suggests that individuals living in more walkable neighborhoods are more likely to achieve recommended levels of physical activity.

  • Green Spaces and Mental Health:

    Studies have shown that access to green spaces and nature in urban environments positively impacts mental health and well-being. Spending time in parks or green areas has been linked to reduced stress, improved mood, and enhanced cognitive function. A study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that individuals who lived closer to green spaces had lower rates of mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

  • Urban Transport and Air Quality:

    Air pollution is a significant health concern in many cities. The WHO estimates that 91% of the world's population lives in places where air quality exceeds the organization's guideline limits. Implementing sustainable urban transport systems, such as promoting public transit and cycling infrastructure, can help reduce air pollution and improve overall air quality.

  • Social Interactions and Well-being:

    Social connections and interactions are crucial for mental health and overall well-being. Strong social support networks and community engagement have been linked to reduced rates of mental health disorders and increased life satisfaction. Studies have shown that individuals who feel a sense of belonging and connection to their communities have better physical and mental health outcomes.

  • Economic Benefits of Healthy Cities:

    Investing in healthy cities yields economic benefits. The WHO estimates that for every dollar invested in physical activity, there is a return of $3.20 in health and productivity gains. According to research by the World Bank, healthier cities can contribute to economic growth through increased productivity, reduced healthcare costs, and enhanced livability that attracts investments and talent.


Acknowledgement:
An earlier version of this Note was prepared for the COIL Programme of Konan University in Kobe, Japan and University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, USA in January 2022.

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org