Urban design refers to the design of towns, cities, streets and spaces [Urban Design Group]. It involves designing and shaping community settings based on the set regulatory framework – the master plan [Fadeyi 2017].
The design of a community’s built environment can have an impact on the physical and mental health of its residents [Dannenberg 2003]. Urban designs that encourage physical activity have positive benefits on health outcomes.
One review (n=41 studies) assessed the benefits of urban designs on mental health [Gharib 2017]. A second review (n=81 studies) investigated the relationship between green building designs and health outcomes following exposure to urban flooding events [Houghton 2017]. A third review (n=39 studies) assessed the impact of neighbourhood design on health and wellbeing [Ige-Elegbede 2020].
A fourth review (n=75 studies) evaluated the major physical and socio-physical determinants of space choice behaviours in open (i.e., non-defined uses) versus enclosed (i.e., specific uses defined) spaces [Jens 2021]. The fifth review (n=58 studies) examined the evidence for co-benefits in activity-friendly settings [Sallis 2015].
Effect of green urban designs
- Limited evidence suggests that blue and green spaces are associated with a lower risk of mental health issues, including depression and psychological stress [Gharib 2017].
- Limited evidence suggests that proximity to a green environment and access to public transport and amenities could improve physical activity levels [Ige-Elegbede 2020].
- There is a significant positive association between neighbourhood walkability and various outcome measures of health and wellbeing [Ige-Elegbede 2020].
- In adults, access and proximity to green space are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, and diabetes [Ige-Elegbede 2020].
- In cases of flooding, green building designs can reduce the risk of waterborne diseases, flood-related morbidity and mortality, psychological harm, and the interface between humans and wildlife [Houghton 2017].
- The key environmental determinants of health linking green building strategies and flooding events are water quality, loss of habitat, exposure to biodiversity, and the extent of permeable cover in settings with vulnerable persons [Houghton 2017].
- Overexposure, stress, and lack of privacy are the main trade-offs of public spaces [Jens 2021]
Effect of active living
- Good to strong quality evidence supports an association between park presence/proximity and all co-benefits, except for economic benefits [Sallis 2015].
- Moderate quality evidence showed that physical activity promotion programs in parks and open spaces were associated with four co-benefits: mental health, social benefits, environmental benefits, and safety/injury prevention [Sallis 2015].
- Moderate quality evidence showed that public gardens had positive impacts on social life, safety and injury prevention [Sallis 2015].
- Good quality evidence showed that trials had economic benefits [Sallis 2015].
Strength of the Evidence
Strength of the Evidence
Two reviews reported on the quality of included studies. In Ige-Elegbede 2020, over 40% of included studies were of poor quality. In Sallis 2015, the quality of evidence for outcomes was rated as moderate to good.
No study reported on the resource implications of urban designs. However, implementation requires long-term investment and sustained resources.
- Future studies should explore the relationship between urban designs and health outcomes and also quantify the magnitude of the benefits.
- Studies assessing the impact of other environmental disasters (e.g., drought, wildfires, hurricanes) on health outcomes in populations living within green building designs should be conducted.
- Urban Design Group. “What is Urban Design?”
- The role of building information modelling (BIM) in delivering the sustainable building value.” International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment Volume 6, Issue 2, December 2017, Pages 711-722.
- The impact of community design and land-use choices on public health: a scientific research agenda.” American Journal of public health vol. 93,9 (2003): 1500-8.
Reference to Reviews
Reference to Reviews
Gharib 2017. “Mental health and urban design – zoning in on PTSD.” Current Psychology volume 39, 2020: pages 167–173.
Houghton 2017. “Health Co-Benefits of Green Building Design Strategies and Community Resilience to Urban Flooding: A Systematic Review of the Evidence.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 14,12 1519. 6 Dec. 2017, doi:10.3390/ijerph14121519.
Ige-Elegbede 2020. “Designing healthier neighbourhoods: a systematic review of the impact of the neighbourhood design on health and wellbeing.” Cities & health vol. 6,5 1004-1019. 1 Sep. 2020, doi:10.1080/23748834.2020.1799173.
Jens 2021. “How design shapes space choice behaviors in public urban and shared indoor spaces- A review.” Sustainable Cities and Society Volume 65, February 2021, 102592.
Sallis 2015. “Co-benefits of designing communities for active living: an exploration of literature.” The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity vol. 12 30. 28 Feb. 2015, doi:10.1186/s12966-015-0188-2.