Urban Planning and Environmental Health

The way that communities are planned have been proven to have an affect on the health of those who live in them. The connection between urban planning and health have caused many to question conventional wisdom, particularly in the suburbs.  

Air quality, access to public transit, and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists are all pertinent issues in this era that is transitioning out of Twentieth Century post-war thinking.  After all, it must be remembered that when we talk about protecting the environment, the environment should include us.

So, what are some elements that every development and urban planning project should include? Guest writer  from the UK, Brad Warmbold, is here to outline a few.


Source: freshome.com via Onesia on Pinterest

A well planned urban environment can be described as a living organism, meaning that it is sustainable enough to create its own resources and live off them comfortably, also producing and handling its own waste. This makes it easy for people to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives, by creating safe neighborhoods with pathways, cycle lanes and interconnecting green spaces to help residents travel from place to place. Employees can cycle to work, children can walk to school and families can spend time together recreationally using some of the cycle or foot paths.

Urban planning can be used to reduce the need to use cars for travel by creating shorter roads and green space within urban areas to provide places to live, work and play all in close proximity. The fact that everything is built within close proximity, or there is at least an easy way to get to places, means that less land is needed for human living, allowing for the preservation of wilderness.

Urban planning is about citizens

When designing an urban environment, factors such as: air pollution, traffic, noise, space, security, community and physical activity need to be considered. These factors all contribute to residents’ health and well-being. Measures will be made to reduce traffic in the urban district which in turn will; reduce air pollution, cause less stress for drivers, and encourage other methods of transport (i.e. walking, cycling or using public transport). Roads will be planned so that most places can be accessible from wherever you start from, an example of this type of traffic calming measure can be seen in America, where some neighborhoods are set out in ‘blocks’ to form a grid network of roads.

Direct cycle and foot paths will also be introduced as an alternative which can encourage residents to use healthier, more physical methods of travel. Urban planners will focus on lowering the carbon output of a neighborhood by encouraging the use of cycle routes and foot paths for shorter journeys (for example, walking/cycling to school, local shops, parks and to places of work) and the use of public transport for medium to long journeys. Regular bus timetables help to encourage use of public transport by ensuring that buses on the main routes will stop for residents, for example a bus into the city from a suburb.


Urban planning, green space, and mental health

The mental health of a person also needs to be taken into consideration when planning an urban settlement. It is true that density in urban settlements comes with both negative and positive mental health effects, where stress can be spread throughout the community but increased opportunities try to counteract this. Planners need to assess the health consequences of an urban environment, and to understand the causes and solutions.

One of many methods of ensuring the safety of a community’s mental health is to provide them with large open green spaces. Providing green spaces enables residents to use this space for recreational activities, improving physical health and helping to unite the community. Parks are often built in urban districts so that children will have chance to play with other kids in their area, or even for family time spent together. The strength of a community can greatly affect a person’s mental health and can actually make the neighborhood feel safer as they will get to know their surrounding neighbors.

Urban planning can change a community for the better, bringing out the best of the area to improve mental and physical health.


Thanks, Brad.

Brad Warmbold wrote this post on behalf of ORBEE, whose site contains a collection of teaching and learning materials, targeting academics. Visit their site for more knowledge of the Built Environment.



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