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Urban Planning for Health Equity

Heike Köckler
Stellvertretende Leitung:
Gabriele Bolte,
Martin Knöll
Natalie Riedel

Urban areas are for several reasons in the focus of discourses on spatial development: the trend of urbanisation worldwide is unbroken. Cities are not only places of spatial and social segregation, but also of health inequalities. In 2016, in a series of the journal The Lancet, cities were emphasized as “important social determinant to health”, highlighting the multiple relations between urban planning, mobility and health outcomes via factors such as air and noise pollution, inactive lifestyles, social isolation and exposure to crime (https://www.thelancet.com/series/urban-design). Various forms of health inequity are observed as there are unequal micro-environments and opportunities for healthy living within the cities: Influenced by urban environmental factors, life expectancy from birth varies up to eight years between different neighbourhoods in European Cities. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has amplified urban health inequity, revealing the consequences of unequal access to adequate housing, quality green spaces and health infrastructures. Therefore, the pursuit of developing urban areas that are healthy, sustainable and just is a common concern of practitioners and scientists around the globe. 

This working group on Urban Planning for Health Equity addresses different ARL research fields. It mainly refers to the field of demographic and socio-economic change as it deals with an integrated view of health equity, environmental justice and quality of life for different communities living in European cities today. Spatial development, urban planning and urban design are key determinants of health equity, which have rarely been researched in a transdisciplinary and international perspective. This includes the living conditions that are developed, designed and planned to allow communities regardless of their level of marginalisation and deprivation to live more healthy lives. Therefore, aspects of health and environment, physical activity, mobility, and digitalisation, inclusion and participation in decision-making will be on the agenda. 

The role of meaningful involvement and participation of different communities in decision making following the concepts of procedural environmental justice and empowerment in the sense of enabling individuals is an important determinant of health for these communities. Therefore, it is important for a vital urban planning for health equity.  

Facing the effects of a worldwide pandemic, we investigate urban planning in its potential to mitigate urban health inequity in three perspectives: 1) short-term measures like lockdowns, 2) inequity in SARS-CoV-2 effects determined by urban health inequity and 3) long-term effects and conclusions for a post-pandemic city, e.g. building up sustainable resilience against new emergencies.

The working group focuses on European cities as entities that are shaped by similar cultural, economic and historical backgrounds, a joint political and administrative framework, similar public health challenges, but vary in approaches for urban planning and urban design. 

Research Questions

  • What are the key determinants of health equity for different communities in urban areas? Which indicators could represent these determinants? 
  • How do we deal with multiple environmental burdens as determinant of health inequity?
  • How can inclusive design become the standard in spatial planning?
  • What are innovative concepts of community health care?
  • How can health equity impact assessment (e.g. taking intervention generated inequalities into account) be integrated into urban planning and design processes? 
  • What are innovative approaches of participation in urban development meeting the requirement of empowerment and procedural environmental justice?
  • What are benefits of health equity interventions for sustainable urban development?
  • What lessons do we learn from the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic for urban health equity? 
  • How can urban health inequities be visualised and communicated to decision makers?