Repeated heat waves and increasingly frequent adverse weather events remind us that our health is closely related to the way we build and inhabit our cities. Likewise, the urban environment and parameters associated with it, such as mobility and the existence or not of green areas, can have a determining influence on human health. For this reason, in the conference entitled “Architectural quality for health”, the Superior Council of Colleges of Architects from Spain (CSCAE) has presented this Wednesday, December 14, the Documenta ‘Healthy City and Territory’.
It is a guide for improve our inhabited environments as a basis for healthy preventative that results from the collaborative work that, since 2018, the 2030 Observatory has been carrying out. Specifically, it includes the contributions of more than a hundred experts from different disciplines to move towards a culture of health and welfare in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Urban Agendas and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda.
The publication identifies five main axes related to the development and implementation of healthy cities and territories: 1) the renaturation of the urban environments and his regeneration; 2) inclusion for promote access to decent housing and to essential services, promoting social cohesion, equity and inclusive governance; 3) the decarbonization of the building stock and the establishment of collective health indicators/meters in the public and private space; 4) the reactivation of rural areas and the revitalization of consolidated urban environments to promote territorial rebalancing; and 5) the adaptation to climate change.
Pressing challenges with health effects
“Global warming, access to decent and adequate housing or the progressive aging of the population place us before pressing challenges that have effects direct about our health and that urge us to undertake a profound transformation that redefines our cities and the environment in which we live. Architecture and urban planning are key to this and the European Next Generation funds give us the opportunity to do so from a comprehensive perspective that allows us to decarbonise the built-up park and respond to the needs of the population”, highlighted the president of the CSCAE, Marta Vall -llossera, during the presentation, which took place in the Official College of Architects of Madrid (COAM).
After her speech, the head of Climate and Sustainability at Arup in Europe, Susana Saiz, outlined the keys to the publication, which connects the five main axes diagnosed to advance towards healthier environments with the problems that have prevented, up to now, reaching a desirable situation and 72 actions to achieve it by 2030 that contemplate:
1. Promotion of the design and construction of green infrastructures and blueintegrating natural cycles and processes such as zero water, zero waste or zero carbon, among others, as well as the maintenance and management of green spaces, incorporating urban gardens for food production and promoting the renaturalization of cities and inhabited spaces.
two. The incorporation of UX design or “design focused on the experience of the user person”which would allow, thanks to a previous analysis, the elimination of barriers (physical, sensory and cognitive, but also economic, cultural or informative) to the access and use of public spaces and services by different groups, as a requirement of universal accessibility .
3. The use of low carbon forms of mobility, such as public collective transport systems, electric vehicles or infrastructures that favor active mobility, both cycling and pedestrian networks. And this is connected with the reduction in demand, so that, in addition to increasing the use of clean energy, current designs must be rehabilitated and bioclimatic architecture and urban planning must be incorporated to achieve this objective through
passive strategies, the use of highly energy efficient equipment and systems or the establishment of district heat and cold networks.
Four. The push for calls “fifteen minute cities”designed so that all people have access to basic services within a distance of fifteen minutes on foot or by bicycle, promoting the connection of active mobility infrastructures and public transport networks and, in rural areas, facilitating access to the infrastructures and public services necessary to combat imbalances.
5. The renaturalization of cities and inhabited rural environments through the incorporation of green and blue infrastructures, which influence the recovery and reinforcement of healthy ecosystems within cities and thus manage to create a series of robust, flexible and inclusive systems.
“Architectural quality for health”
After the presentation of the Documenta ‘Healthy City and Territory’, there was a round table moderated by the director of the CSCAE Observatory 2030, Ángela baldellouin which the director of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health of the World Health Organization (WHO) participated, via telematic connection, Maria Neira; the professor of Urban Planning at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) Jose Farina; the president of the Healthy Architecture Observatory, rita gasalla; the architect and urban planner José María Ezquiaga and Susana Saiz, from Arup. All of them agreed that in cities we risk our health because its design, planning and management result in less use of the hospital system and, consequently, in less health spending.
The director of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health of the WHO was blunt: “Cities are the most important laboratory where we risk our health because, based on its design and planning, we will reduce healthcare costs. If we cannot interact with each other, we will increasingly have a higher cost in mental health. If we cannot walk, we will have more and more diseases derived from a sedentary lifestyle”. In this sense, he warned that lifestyles are not decided only individually, but are determined by the characteristics of the urban environment.
The professor of Urbanism Jose Farina specified that “having a green area less than 400 meters means that spending on pharmacopoeia decreases by 20%”, and stressed that strategies to achieve healthy cities Are the same that to achieve sustainable environments. For this reason, he opted to build “coexistence spaces where people truly participate” and, confessing himself to be “optimistic”, he stressed that, in Spain, there are already examples of cities where progress is being made to incorporate health meters to urban planningas is the case of Vic.
The head of Climate and Sustainability of Arup in Europe highlighted the return of enjoying healthier urban environments also at an economic level: “The sense of belonging, wanting to stay in one place, gives social cohesion, establishes the population in a territory and has a direct economic impact that extends to the use of the health system, since a person who lives in a healthy environment you won’t need the hospital system as much”.
The architect and urban planner José María Ezquiaga pointed out that, although Covid19 has once again put the focus on health, even before the pandemic there was a reflection about the impact of urbanism in defeating infectious diseases endemic in the developed world and also in developing countries. “The relationship between health and disease is intrinsic to Urbanism,” he said.
Finally, the president of the Healthy Architecture Observatory, Rita Gasalla, valued the contributions of technology and digitization to improve people’s lives and asked that the associated strategies and actions contemplated in the Documenta ‘Healthy City and Territory’ be incorporated to achieve healthier environments on the agendas of Public Administrations and private entities.
Once this Documenta is published, the work of the CSCAE 2030 Observatory will continue to constitute a technical committee that will be responsible for overseeing and obtaining necessary commitments to implement by 2030 the 72 lines of action identified, establishing priorities and their evaluation.