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Urban Planning for Healthy Cities

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3 min read


Cities, often seen negatively, need healthier environments. 'Healthy Cities Initiative' aims to balance health with economic opportunities.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Rajesh Jain

Published At May 21, 2024
Reviewed AtMay 21, 2024


Town planning is not just about making things look nice or function smoothly; it is about creating communities where people can live healthy, fulfilling lives now and in the future. The World Health Organization emphasizes that health is not just the absence of illness but a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. So, when planning cities and towns, one must consider how they affect people's health in all these aspects. This means looking at how housing, transportation, and access to food and recreation impact people's health. It is not just about healthcare – it is about making sure that the places where we live support our health and well-being.

Why Is Urban Planning Important for Public Health?

Urban planning, or how cities are designed and organized, dramatically affects our health. When cities are planned well, they support healthy lifestyles. For example, if a city is designed with lots of roads and parking lots but not many sidewalks or parks, it makes it harder for people to walk or exercise. Also, if stores and homes are far apart, people might have to drive everywhere, which can lead to pollution and less physical activity. Plus, if neighborhoods are not mixed with shops, homes, and parks, it can make it harder for people to socialize and support each other.

What Are Some of the Goals of the WHO Healthy Urban Planning Initiative?

The WHO Healthy Urban Planning Initiative is a program that helps cities plan their development to promote health for everyone. It started in the 1990s, focusing on improving how cities are intended to support people's health. They found that many towns needed to consider health when making their plans. So, they devised a set of goals to guide cities in creating healthier environments. The initiative has several goals, like making it easier for people to live healthy lifestyles by promoting exercise and access to good food. It also aims to create communities where people feel connected and supported, provide access to housing and jobs, and ensure good facilities like schools and healthcare centers nearby. Plus, it wants to make cities safer and more enjoyable to live in by reducing things like pollution and making sure there is enough green space. So, overall, it is about making cities better places for people to live healthy lives.

What Are the Different Levels of Integrating Health into Urban Planning?

There are three levels of integrating health into urban planning. The levels differ in how much they prioritize health in urban planning:

  • The first level is basic, providing essential needs like shelter, clean water, and food.

  • The second level goes beyond this, including aspects like parks, cycle networks, and housing renewal that impact health and well-being.

  • The third level fully integrates health into planning, making it a core focus alongside environmental sustainability and social justice.

What Are the Key Strategies and Approaches for Promoting Health and Well-Being in Urban Planning?

  • The crucial role of urban planning in fostering health and well-being within cities is stressed because the layout and design of cities can significantly impact people's health, ranging from air quality to access to green spaces. It advocates for urban planners to prioritize creating environments that mitigate negative health factors while enhancing positive ones.

  • Various strategies and approaches have been initiated to achieve this. One key aspect is involving local communities in planning and considering health equity to ensure that all residents benefit from urban development initiatives. It also highlights the importance of aligning city planning with international frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals to steer towards healthier outcomes.

  • The planning of healthy cities entails two main components: health protection through policies and regulations and health promotion through various strategies. These strategies include designing cities with health considerations, enhancing neighborhoods, and fostering innovation and safety to support everyone's ability to live healthily and equitably.

  • Urban elements such as land use patterns, transportation systems, green spaces, and urban design significantly shape health outcomes. By adjusting these elements thoughtfully, cities can positively impact physical activity levels, air quality, noise exposure, and unintentional injuries.

  • At a strategic level, planning for healthy cities involves setting long-term goals and visions for urban development. Different approaches to urban growth, such as compact cities or suburban sprawl, have varying impacts on health, underscoring the importance of considering these factors in planning decisions.

  • Effective action for healthy cities requires collaboration and coordination across various sectors, including urban planning, transportation, and public health. Engaging local communities in the planning process is essential, as they can provide valuable insights into what makes a place healthy and supportive of well-being.

  • Ultimately, the goal is to create cities where everyone can lead healthy lives with access to amenities, green spaces, and opportunities for physical activity. By prioritizing health in city planning and development, we can create environments that promote well-being for all residents.


Healthy urban planning means planning cities with people in mind. It involves considering how city development decisions affect residents' health and well-being. This includes balancing social, environmental, and economic factors to create sustainable cities. The idea is based on fairness, cooperation between sectors, community involvement, and sustainability. Urban planners and related professionals can shape the environments in which people live and work. Improving access to services, creating better living conditions, promoting healthy lifestyles, and fostering solid social connections can significantly impact people's health, well-being, and overall quality of life. WHO's work in this area explores how urban planning can be used to improve health outcomes in cities.

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Dr. Rajesh Jain

General Practitioner


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