May 16, 2016
Urban Planning for Healthy Communities

There are many links between urban planning and healthy communities. Environmental, social and economic conditions can have both positive and negative influences on our health. Urban planning professionals play an important role in shaping those conditions – while supported by dynamic leadership, urban planners, developers, citizens and city officials must work together towards one goal: the improvement of health, well being and overall quality of life. Whatever the process, healthy urban planning must always take into account the various cultures, religions and lifestyles within the community.

What does health in urban planning look like? The answer is individually different for every neighbourhood, community and city, and of course, there many different opinions as to what constitutes a healthy city. The WHO (World Health Organization)’s Healthy Cities Project Office developed seven principles of healthy urban planning – when applied properly can be used towards creating and sustaining healthy cities. They are as follows:
Equity: All people must have the right and opportunity to realize their full potential in health.
Health Promotion: A city health plan should aim to promote health by using the following principles: build a healthy public policy; create supportive environments; strengthen community action and develop personal skills; and reorient health services.
Intersectoral Action: Health is created in the setting of everyday life and is influenced by the actions and decisions of most sectors of a community.
Community Participation: Informed, motivated and actively participating communities are key elements for setting priorities and making and implementing decisions.
Supportive Environments: A city health plan should address the creation of supportive physical and social environments. This includes issues of ecology and sustainability as well as social networks, transportation, housing and other environmental concerns.
Accountability: Decisions of politicians, senior executives and managers in all sectors have an impact on the conditions that influence health, and responsibility for such decisions should be made explicit in a clear and understandable manner and in a form that can be measured and assessed after time.
The Right to Peace: Peace is a fundamental prerequisite for health and the attainment of peace is a justifiable aim for those who are seeking to achieve the maximum state of health for their community and citizens.

This year, Ottawa was ranked 17th for “best quality of living” against 230 other major cities. No surprise there are multiple examples of healthy urban planning: the city is busting with public social spaces, local community plazas, parks, and squares, designed to support community festivals and celebrations of different shapes and sizes. These events give citizens the opportunity to interact with their neighbours, form bonds, therefore creating stronger communities. Ottawa is also home to numerous cyclist trials, walking paths and public transit options – including a Light Rail Transit system under construction – providing accessible, enjoyable and healthy transit options for everyone.