Urban design can affect your health

Some of us may choose to live downtown on the 45th floor of a tall skyscraper, while others opt for a quaint townhouse near the park. Although these decisions might feel like “identity” or “lifestyle” choices at the time we’re making them, research suggests that they are indeed health choices as well. A systematic review published in the Family & Community Health journal demonstrates that neighborhood layouts can impact the decisions individuals and communities make when it comes to their health. Specifically, the review found that neighborhoods characterized as more walkable, either for leisure or destination purposes, were associated with increased physical activity, as well as with decreased levels of obesity, depression and alcohol abuse.

Healthy environments, by design

A similar research report investigating the link between urban design and health, published by Dr. Richard Joseph Jackson and Chris Kochtitzky at CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, explored this theme in greater detail while contributing practical recommendations. Of the various areas investigated, the report especially touched on how environments which, by design, promote walking or jogging outdoors, can decrease the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes. The report also highlighted public transit’s role in minimizing respiratory diseases like asthma by lowering carbon emissions.

Preparing for an urban future

Reflecting the growing global population, urbanization is increasing in tandem—with 68% of the world’s population projected to live in urban areas by 2050. Urban design increasingly requires interdisciplinary thinking—research and ideas from various fields— to design cities that reflect the true complexity of human living, especially given current sustainability pressures. The design of our structured environment influences the way we experience our mental and physical health, community and nature. How are we designing urban spaces that enable people to live well?