SD Features
Healthy Cities
Healthy Cities and SD
Creating Livable Urban Spaces:
Fostering Active Life Choices

Hari Srinivas
Policy Analysis Series C-020.

Three keywords for
healthy cities
Emphasizing the importance of designing urban environments that promote active and healthy lifestyles, while fostering positive interactions and overall well-being - effectively encapsulates the essence of the conversation on healthy cities.

In the context of urban planning, fostering active life choices means designing cities that encourage and facilitate physical activity, healthy behaviors, and balanced living. This involves, for example, creating infrastructure that supports active transportation like walking and cycling, providing accessible recreational spaces for exercise, promoting healthy food options, and organizing health promotion campaigns.

By integrating these lifestyle factors into the urban fabric, cities can empower individuals to adopt and sustain healthier lifestyles, ultimately improving their overall health outcomes.

Livable urban spaces should also prioritize fostering positive social interactions among residents. By creating inclusive public spaces, supporting community events and initiatives, and promoting diversity and cultural exchange, cities can cultivate a sense of belonging, social cohesion, and collective responsibility. These interactions enhance residents' well-being by reducing social isolation, enhancing social support networks, and promoting a sense of connectedness and shared identity among community members.

Creating livable urban spaces goes beyond physical aspects and encompasses overall well-being. Cities need to consider mental and emotional health alongside physical health. This can be achieved by ensuring access to healthcare facilities, green spaces, and recreational areas, as well as addressing social determinants of health such as safety, affordable housing, and equitable access to resources and opportunities. Prioritizing well-being in urban planning promotes resilience, reduces health disparities, and enhances residents' overall quality of life.

We need to design cities that not only encourage active lifestyles but also foster positive social interactions and prioritize the holistic well-being of residents. By integrating these elements into urban planning, cities can create vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable environments that promote healthier and happier lives for their residents.

Exploring the theme of healthy cities through the keywords "Lifestyles," "Interactions," and "Well-being" provides a comprehensive and interconnected approach to understanding how cities can promote and foster the health and well-being of their residents.

Let's delve deeper into each keyword:

1. Lifestyles

Lifestyles refer to the patterns of behavior and choices individuals make regarding their daily routines, habits, and activities. In the context of healthy cities, promoting healthy lifestyles involves creating an environment that encourages and supports physical activity, balanced nutrition, and overall well-being.

This can be achieved through various means, such as providing accessible recreational spaces, promoting active transportation (e.g., walking and cycling), offering healthy food options, and organizing community health programs. Encouraging healthy lifestyles can have a positive impact on individuals' physical and mental health, leading to reduced rates of chronic diseases and improved overall quality of life.

  1. Promote active transportation: Develop infrastructure that supports walking, cycling, and other non-motorized modes of transport, such as dedicated bike lanes, pedestrian-friendly streets, and bike-sharing programs.

  2. Create accessible recreational spaces: Establish parks, green spaces, and outdoor facilities for sports and exercise, making them easily accessible to residents of all ages and abilities.

  3. Encourage healthy food options: Implement policies that promote access to fresh and nutritious food, such as supporting farmers' markets, community gardens, and healthy food initiatives.

  4. Organize health promotion campaigns: Launch community-wide campaigns that educate and raise awareness about the benefits of physical activity, healthy eating, and overall well-being.

  5. Integrate health into urban planning: Incorporate health considerations into urban planning decisions, ensuring that neighborhoods are designed to support active lifestyles, with amenities like sidewalks, public transit, and mixed-use developments.

  6. Provide educational programs: Collaborate with schools and community organizations to offer educational programs on healthy lifestyles, including nutrition, exercise, and stress management.

  7. Support workplace wellness initiatives: Encourage local businesses and employers to implement wellness programs for their employees, such as fitness challenges, healthy lunch options, and mental health support.

  8. Engage in partnerships: Collaborate with healthcare providers, community organizations, and local stakeholders to develop comprehensive strategies for promoting healthy lifestyles and sustainable behaviors.

Promote active transportation:
  • Copenhagen, Denmark, has developed an extensive cycling infrastructure, including dedicated bike lanes and bridges, to encourage residents to choose cycling as a mode of transportation.
  • Bogotá, Colombia, has implemented a successful program called "Ciclovía," where major streets are closed to motorized vehicles on Sundays and public holidays, allowing people to walk, run, cycle, and participate in various physical activities.
  • Create accessible recreational spaces:
  • Singapore has integrated nature into its urban environment through initiatives like the "Park Connector Network," which consists of a network of green corridors linking parks and recreational spaces throughout the city, providing residents with accessible and interconnected green spaces.
  • Encourage healthy food options:
  • New York City, USA, has implemented programs such as "Green Carts" that provide fresh fruits and vegetables in underserved neighborhoods, and "Healthy Bodegas" that incentivize local convenience stores to stock and promote healthier food options.
  • 2. Interactions

    Interactions encompass the social connections and relationships that individuals form within their urban environment. Healthy cities prioritize creating inclusive and vibrant communities that foster positive social interactions. This can be achieved by designing public spaces that facilitate social gatherings, promoting community engagement and participation, supporting diverse cultural events, and fostering a sense of belonging and cohesion among residents. Strong social connections contribute to individuals' well-being by reducing loneliness, stress, and mental health issues, while also promoting a sense of social support, trust, and collective responsibility.

    1. Design inclusive public spaces: Create welcoming and accessible public spaces that encourage social interactions, such as plazas, community centers, and gathering spots that are designed with the input of diverse community members.

    2. Support community events: Organize cultural festivals, street fairs, and community celebrations that bring residents together and foster a sense of belonging and shared identity.

    3. Enhance public transportation: Improve public transit systems to encourage social interactions by providing comfortable seating, designated conversation areas, and shared public spaces within transit stations.

    4. Facilitate community engagement: Establish platforms and mechanisms for residents to participate in decision-making processes, such as neighborhood councils, town hall meetings, and online forums.

    5. Promote diversity and inclusion: Embrace diversity and create opportunities for cross-cultural interactions through initiatives like multicultural events, language exchange programs, and intercultural dialogue workshops.

    6. Encourage volunteerism and civic participation: Facilitate opportunities for residents to engage in volunteer work, community service projects, and local initiatives that strengthen social connections and encourage collective action.

    7. Support local businesses and markets: Foster a sense of community by promoting and supporting local businesses, farmers' markets, and neighborhood shops, which can serve as gathering places for residents.

    8. Establish safe and well-lit public spaces: Ensure that public spaces are well-maintained, adequately lit, and equipped with seating areas, encouraging residents to spend time outdoors and engage in casual interactions.

    Design inclusive public spaces:
  • The "Superkilen" park in Copenhagen, Denmark, is designed to represent the diversity of the local community, featuring elements from different cultures and encouraging people from various backgrounds to come together and interact.
  • Support community events:
  • The city of Barcelona, Spain, organizes the "Festa Major de Gràcia," a week-long neighborhood festival where residents decorate their streets, organize concerts, and engage in various cultural activities, fostering a strong sense of community and social interactions.
  • 3. Well-being

    Well-being encompasses the overall state of an individual's physical, mental, and emotional health. Healthy cities recognize the importance of prioritizing well-being as a fundamental aspect of urban planning and development. This involves designing cities that prioritize access to healthcare facilities, green spaces, recreational areas, and mental health services.

    Additionally, well-being is fostered by reducing pollution levels, ensuring safety and security, promoting equitable access to resources and opportunities, and considering the overall quality of the built environment. Prioritizing well-being in urban planning enhances residents' quality of life, promotes resilience, and reduces health disparities across different populations.

    1. Prioritize mental health services: Allocate resources to enhance access to mental health services, including counseling, therapy, and support networks, ensuring that they are affordable and culturally sensitive.

    2. Improve healthcare infrastructure: Invest in healthcare facilities, clinics, and hospitals that provide comprehensive services to residents, particularly in underserved neighborhoods.

    3. Create age-friendly environments: Design cities with features that accommodate the needs of all age groups, including accessible infrastructure, social support programs for seniors, and age-appropriate recreational activities.

    4. Reduce environmental pollution: Implement measures to minimize air and water pollution, including promoting renewable energy sources, enhancing waste management systems, and reducing emissions from transportation.

    5. Foster a sense of safety and security: Implement strategies to enhance public safety, such as well-lit streets, security cameras, and community policing programs, which contribute to residents' sense of well-being.

    6. Enhance access to green spaces: Increase the number and quality of parks, gardens, and urban green spaces, providing opportunities for relaxation, recreation, and contact with nature, which have a positive impact on mental and physical health.

    7. Promote work-life balance: Advocate for policies that support flexible work arrangements, encourage employers to provide wellness programs in the workplace, and promote a healthy work-life balance among residents.

    8. Address social determinants of health: Tackle social inequalities and address the root causes of health disparities by implementing policies that address factors such as income inequality, housing affordability, and educational opportunities.

    Prioritize mental health services:
  • The city of Melbourne, Australia, has implemented the "Healthy Together Victoria" program, which aims to improve mental health and well-being by providing accessible mental health support services, community programs, and initiatives to reduce stigma surrounding mental health.
  • Improve healthcare infrastructure:
  • Singapore has developed an integrated healthcare system, including the "Regional Health System" model, which ensures that each region has a network of healthcare facilities, clinics, and hospitals, providing comprehensive and accessible healthcare services to residents.
  • Healthy Cities in the Urban Planning and Development Processes

    Incorporating the three keywords-Lifestyles, Interactions, and Well-being-into overall urban planning and development processes requires a comprehensive and integrated approach:

    1. Holistic Vision:
      Urban planning should begin with a holistic vision that places emphasis on creating healthy, livable cities. This vision should encompass goals related to promoting active lifestyles, fostering social interactions, and prioritizing well-being as foundational elements of urban development.

    2. Collaborative Approach:
      Engage various stakeholders, including city officials, urban planners, architects, community organizations, and residents, in the planning process. Collaboration ensures that diverse perspectives and needs are considered, leading to more inclusive and effective urban plans.

    3. Mixed-Use Development:
      Promote mixed-use development to create vibrant neighborhoods that integrate residential, commercial, recreational, and social spaces. This facilitates active lifestyles by reducing the need for long commutes, creating walkable neighborhoods, and providing opportunities for social interactions within close proximity.

    4. Connectivity and Accessibility:
      Design cities with efficient transportation systems that prioritize active transportation modes, such as pedestrian-friendly streets, bike lanes, and public transit networks. Ensure that essential services, recreational facilities, and green spaces are easily accessible to all residents, regardless of their location.

    5. Green and Public Spaces:
      Incorporate ample green spaces, parks, and public gathering areas throughout the city. These spaces provide opportunities for physical activity, relaxation, and social interactions, fostering both healthy lifestyles and community cohesion.

    6. Health-Integrated Infrastructure:
      Integrate health considerations into infrastructure planning. This involves designing buildings, streets, and public spaces that promote physical activity, ensure safety, improve air quality, and prioritize the mental and emotional well-being of residents.

    7. Participatory Planning:
      Involve the community in the planning process through public consultations, workshops, and feedback mechanisms. Engaging residents helps ensure that their needs, preferences, and ideas are considered, resulting in urban plans that reflect the aspirations and values of the community.

    8. Monitoring and Evaluation:
      Establish mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the impact of urban planning decisions on the keywords of Lifestyles, Interactions, and Well-being. This allows for continuous improvement and adjustment of strategies, based on data and feedback from residents.

    By incorporating these approaches into urban planning and development processes, cities can create environments that promote healthy lifestyles, foster social interactions, and prioritize the well-being of their residents. It requires an integrated and people-centered approach that considers the diverse needs and aspirations of the community, resulting in more sustainable, inclusive, and livable cities.

    Healthy Cities: A Stakeholder Analysis

    There are a number of stakeholders who need to come together in order to pursue the aim of creating healthy cities. These stakeholders are drawn from three sectors - governments, private sector and the civil sector. As the figure illustrates, each stakeholder brings in unique knowledge and capacities to create the necessary environment for a healthy city.

    City Government City governments have a crucial role in urban planning and development. They set policies, allocate resources, and regulate land use and infrastructure. They can create frameworks and incentives to promote healthy cities. City governments aim to improve residents' quality of life, attract investments, enhance sustainability, and address public health challenges. City governments have significant authority and decision-making power, making their involvement essential in implementing strategies for healthy cities.
    Urban Planners and Designers Urban planners and designers are responsible for developing and implementing plans that shape the physical environment of cities. They consider factors such as land use, transportation, and infrastructure to create healthy and sustainable urban spaces. Urban planners and designers strive to create well-designed, accessible, and livable cities that promote healthy lifestyles, social interactions, and overall well-being. Their expertise and recommendations significantly influence the design and layout of cities, and their involvement is vital to integrating health considerations into urban planning processes.
    Community Organizations and NGOs Community organizations and nonprofits work directly with residents to address specific health and well-being needs. They provide services, advocate for community interests, and facilitate community engagement and participation. These organizations aim to improve the health and well-being of specific populations or communities. They may focus on areas such as healthcare access, physical activity promotion, social support, and advocacy for marginalized groups. Community organizations play a key role in raising awareness, mobilizing resources, and ensuring that the needs and perspectives of residents are considered in decision-making processes.
    Residents and Community Members Residents are the primary beneficiaries of healthy cities. Their responsibilities include actively engaging in community activities, adopting healthy behaviors, and providing feedback and input to shape urban planning decisions. Residents have diverse interests, including access to quality healthcare, safe and walkable neighborhoods, recreational opportunities, social connections, and a clean environment. They seek a high quality of life for themselves and their families. Residents' opinions, concerns, and needs should inform urban planning decisions. Their active participation and advocacy are essential to create healthy cities that truly meet their expectations.
    Businesses and Employers Businesses and employers can contribute to healthy cities by promoting employee well-being, creating healthy work environments, and supporting community initiatives. They can provide amenities, services, and job opportunities that contribute to residents' health and well-being. Businesses may benefit from a healthier and more engaged workforce, increased customer base, and a positive corporate image associated with supporting community well-being. Businesses have the potential to provide financial resources, expertise, and partnerships to support healthy city initiatives. Engaging them as stakeholders can leverage their influence and resources.
    Healthcare Providers Healthcare providers play a critical role in ensuring access to quality healthcare services. They provide medical care, preventive services, and health education to promote and maintain residents' health. Healthcare providers are interested in promoting population health, reducing healthcare disparities, and preventing and managing chronic diseases. They may advocate for policies that support healthy cities and preventive healthcare. Healthcare providers have expertise in public health and can provide evidence-based recommendations and data to inform urban planning decisions. Their involvement can help align healthcare services with the needs of the community.

    The Way Forward: Planning for Healthy Cities

    The concept of healthy cities revolves around prioritizing the well-being of residents through the integration of three key elements: Lifestyles, Interactions, and Well-being. By focusing on promoting active and healthy lifestyles, fostering social interactions, and prioritizing the overall well-being of individuals, cities can create environments that support healthier and more fulfilling lives for their residents.

    Implementing these principles requires a multifaceted approach that involves various stakeholders. City governments play a crucial role in setting policies and allocating resources, while urban planners and designers shape the physical environment of cities. Community organizations and nonprofits provide essential services, advocate for community interests, and facilitate community engagement.

    Residents themselves, as the primary beneficiaries, have a vital role in actively participating, adopting healthy behaviors, and shaping urban planning decisions. Businesses and employers, as well as healthcare providers, also play significant roles in contributing to the creation of healthy cities.

    Incorporating the keywords of Lifestyles, Interactions, and Well-being into urban planning and development processes necessitates a holistic and collaborative approach. It involves creating a shared vision, promoting mixed-use development, enhancing connectivity and accessibility, incorporating green and public spaces, and integrating health considerations into infrastructure planning.

    Participatory planning, monitoring, and evaluation are essential to ensure that the diverse needs and aspirations of the community are met.

    By embracing the principles of healthy cities and engaging stakeholders, cities can become vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable places where residents thrive. Creating healthy cities is not just a matter of physical infrastructure but also encompasses the social fabric, community connections, and overall well-being of individuals. By focusing on lifestyles, interactions, and well-being, cities can create environments that support and promote the health and well-being of their residents.

    These keywords provide a framework for understanding the multifaceted aspects of a healthy city and offer a holistic approach to urban planning and development.

    ANNEX: Healthy Cities Ranking
    • Global Liveability Index: The Global Liveability Index, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), ranks cities based on factors such as stability, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and culture. While not solely focused on health, it provides an overall assessment of a city's livability, which includes health-related aspects.

    • Healthy Cities Index: The BRE Healthy Cities Index is a tool that provides an assessment of global cities against a set of indicators that measure the impact of the urban environment on health and wellbeing. It is an agenda setter for city governments, identifying their unique health challenges and priority areas for action.

    • Healthy Communities Index: The Healthy Communities Index, developed by the Aetna Foundation in collaboration with the U.S. News & World Report, assesses communities in the United States based on factors such as healthcare access, environmental factors, community resources, and lifestyle indicators. It aims to identify communities with policies and infrastructure that support healthy living.

    • WHO Healthy Cities Network: The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes the Healthy Cities approach, which encourages cities to prioritize health in their planning and development. While WHO doesn't provide a formal ranking, it supports cities worldwide in their efforts to create healthier urban environments by providing guidance, best practices, and technical support.

    • Smart Cities Index: Some smart city rankings, such as the Smart Cities Index by IESE Business School, consider health-related factors alongside technology and sustainability. These rankings assess cities' use of technology to improve health services, infrastructure, and quality of life.

    Creative Commons License
    This work by GDRC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. You are free to share and adapt this piece of work for your own purposes, as long as it is appropriately citied. . More info:


     Return to  Sustainable Development
    Return to Healthy Cities
    Contact: Hari Srinivas -