What Defines a Healthy City

This post is part of our Thriving Cities discussion series, following the sixth edition of the NewCities Summit in Incheon Songdo, South Korea in June 2017.

With the rapid growth of cities around the world, urban wellbeing is quickly becoming synonymous with global health and wellbeing. While cities offer the promise of improved economic opportunity and access to services, rapid urbanization has placed unbalanced pressure on the budgets and reach of city governments when it comes to delivering healthy, successful environments.

It is essential we start designing cities as ecosystems of wellbeing, but what does this imply and what defines a ‘healthy city’? Connectivity, efficiency, city consciousness, culture and green spaces were among the criteria listed by the panelists. Vera Baboun, Former Mayor of Bethlehem also called a healthy city one where “all citizens are visible,’’ adding inclusivity to the list of standards that make up a healthy city.

For Michel Mossessian, Founder and Design Principal of Mossessian Architecture, cities are made of two things: spaces and people. The conversation on urban wellbeing must focus on how the former can serve the latter.

What about the spatial techniques that can improve lives of citizens? “It’s all about open spaces,” says Ede Jorge Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director of the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice at the World Bank. ‘‘Open spaces are one of the most effective ways to avoid squalid and overcrowded urban streets,’’ he said.

In the context of Bethlehem, Mayor Baboun articulated the importance of development: “We may be global cities but we differ dramatically in our capacity to control development, and in our capacity to deliver development.”

This notion of control in development was also touched upon by Ijjasz-Vasquez, who emphasized the consequences of urban sprawl on the environment in his closing remarks: “The trend of urban wellbeing should be used as a catalyst for cities to add a sense of urgency to sustainability. We have a small window of opportunity when it comes to preserving our planet.’’

Panelists concluded that urban wellbeing extends beyond the needs of the individual citizen to include the needs of our planet and the wellbeing of future citizens.