A Recipe for Urban Wellbeing

April 11, 2019 — Highlight, The Big Picture

On All Things Urban, we share jobs in the urban sector from all over the world, and from all over the spectrum – far beyond traditional urban planning or design. There, you can easily find such job titles as city services interaction designer, or urban mobility modelling specialist – but despite the growing popularity of the human-centred approach, urban wellbeing specialist is still a rather rare combination. Why so?

To find the answer, let’s take a closer look at how this field is developing today. If previously we’d evaluate society’s success using purely economic metrics like GDP, today it’s more common to try to balance economic growth with quality of life. Policymakers across the globe, on both national and city levels, show greater interest in human wellbeing, and run amazing initiatives aimed at making citizens happier.

However, most of these projects are rather centralised in nature: officials decide on metrics of wellbeing (read “happiness”) and use administrative resources to achieve certain rates and numbers. The importance of such measures shouldn’t be downplayed, but they’re not enough: wellbeing, as well as happiness, is not a condition that can be imposed on people – it’s a process, tightly related to individual choices. It’s therefore crucial to raise awareness, so that people can make better-informed decisions.

Take nutrition, for example: 100 years ago, people didn’t care much about the quality of food and its effect on health; nowadays, we spend a lot of time and effort trying to stick to a healthier lifestyle. This is partly because of governmental efforts to improve public health, but a great deal of our genuine interest in this issue is due to increasing awareness of the importance of a good diet. This combination of individual responsibility and social encouragement results in a positive feedback loop, which affects not only people but businesses, too.

Today, there are hundreds of books, courses and youtube channels on how to keep a balanced diet; you can’t find a shop without a shelf with healthy products, and restaurants serving gourmet sugar-free dishes become increasingly popular. But there’s something else that indicates how mature this ecosystem has become – a rapidly growing number of dieticians, nutritionists and other professionals in this field.

So, how can we make urban wellbeing specialist sound as familiar as dietician? There are many ways to achieve this, but a key consideration in all is making wellbeing part of our day-to-day life. What would happen if similarly to food labels, we’d have some sort of “wellbeing facts”, or even a rating, that every developer or city service provider must display?

This would lead to new jobs for urban wellbeing rating commissions and inspectors, which in turn would bring about urban wellbeing consultants, advising companies on how to improve their score. Gradually, companies would open wellbeing R&D departments, and we would see a growing number of projects in the field. This would create a higher demand for knowledge, and give us, the residents, clearer metrics for decision-making to better integrate wellbeing into our daily life.

Many cities are now at a turning point, and their future depends on their ability to integrate wellbeing in urban policy and design process. Most of all, we need to make sure that this impetus comes not only from policymakers but from citizens, too – and with more and more incredible initiatives in this field, I’m very optimistic to see urban wellbeing becoming a prominent part of the urban ecosystem.

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