How a city is structured is important in order to stimulate a healthy and active life. An environment that stimulates physical activity not only contributes to a more vibrant and social city but also creates a safer environment, increased mobility, decreased noise and better air quality.
Cities are often at the forefront when it comes to development and economic growth. At the same time, there is a risk for social inequalities and unequal health in cities. The structure of the city is an important factor in shaping people’s lives and habits and can help stimulate physical activity such as biking, walking, playing, or doing garden work.
Good accommodation and living environment are fundamental for good health. For citizens to thrive, basic needs such as access to water, electricity, ventilation and green areas are important, but also social aspects such as safety, community involvement and time for social activities. By acknowledging these qualities in an early stage in the planning process, the planner gets a good foundation that can be connected to the needs of the inhabitants.
The bike- and pedestrian-friendly city
A city that is planned in favour of bikes and pedestrians fosters a more active community. For people to be able to use the bike as their mode of transport in their everyday lives, cities need to offer safe and attractive bike lanes, as well as bike lanes that are inclusive to different kind of bikers: children on their way to school as well as people commuting to their jobs. More bikes and increased access to electric bikes or cargo bikes creates new challenges for the planning and shaping of public spaces. Municipalities in Sweden have long experience in bike planning to stimulate more people to choose the bike as their mode of transport.
Despite walking being flexible and climate-friendly, pedestrians are not prioritized in the city planning today. The need to create attractive and safe city environments, where pedestrians can walk, is fundamental to make walking an attractive option.
Physical activity is crucial for children’s physical and psychological health and development. Children’s play is an important part of that development and an environment where play is a part of the planning is therefore of importance, as well as access to green areas and parks. Being a part of community life is another important part of life for Swedes to feel like a part of society and to maintain a healthy life, which can be stimulated through different kinds of planning efforts in the city.
Nature’s importance for a healthy city
Research shows the importance and effects of access to nature in people’s health. Green areas lead to reduced stress, increased physical activity, social interaction and cleaner air. A better immune system, better ability to concentrate and better short-term memory are other positive effects with being exposed to nature. By creating green areas in cities, spaces for recovery and relaxation is created. Research shows that people are prepared to walk a maximum of 300 meters to get to a green area. The Swedish Board of Housing, Building and Planning is, therefore, recommending that green areas are planned within 300 meters from schools and housing buildings.
Possibilities of social interaction
Today, segregation is increasing in many places around the world, which leads to isolation between different groups in society. In Sweden, the feeling of loneliness has increased during the past decades, which makes common spaces in the urban environment even more crucial. Creating common areas where people can meet, socialize and learn from each other decreases segregation and has a positive impact on democracy.