(MENAFN - Procre8) 68% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050 . Considering the numerous mental and physical health impacts associated with urban living, AESG, a global leading Specialist Engineering and Consultancy practice, has emphasized that it is now vital for Middle East cities to adapt new urban planning approaches that safeguard the future well-being of residents.
At its forum on ‘Designing for Healthy, Happy Cities’ − held this month in Dubai ─ the company was joined by regional industry professionals from government bodies, private developers, engineers, architects, urban planners, academics and consultants. Outlining the main areas of concern to this group of key stakeholders, Phillipa Grant, Head of Energy and Sustainable Development at AESG said, “Cities impact both the physical and mental health of their residents, with key contributing factors being the access to outdoor spaces, environmental pollution, community connectivity, and safety and security.”
Highlighting many of the detrimental impacts of urban vs. rural living, including social isolation, increased stress and anxiety, air pollution and obesity, AESG invited regional health and well-being, and design experts to discuss potential solutions to current and future issues. This panel included Rula Sadik, Regional Director at Stantec; Steven Velegrinis, Head of Masterplanning at AECOM; Dr. Nada Chami, Business Development Manager at Saint Gobain UAE; Shaun Killa, Design Partner at Killa Design; as well as Phillipa Grant and AESG Sustainability Consultant, Katherine Bruce.
The panel raised important questions around the integration and utilisation of technology to enhance design solutions, the creation of communal outdoor spaces to encourage social interactions and ways in which the business case for “healthy” design can be expanded on. From the discussion it emerged that there are three key elements in the design of healthy cities.
As exposure to natural surrounding is fundamental to the well-being of urban residents, the design and planning of cities should consider green spaces that allow residents to easily integrate interactions with nature into their daily routine. Given the region's climate, the panel recommended that hardy desert plants should be considered when landscaping. The importance of parks of all sizes − especially pocket parks that are often cut out of the design process − to increase daily exposure to nature was also highlighted.
The group also acknowledged that technologies such as smartphones are minimizing real-world engagements of citizen with each other and their natural surroundings, and noted the need to address this.
Communities need design principles that encourage social interaction. The experts emphasized that these principles need to extend beyond large public areas to facilitate micro-interactions in small spaces such as in building common areas, stairwells and lifts. In particular, the concept of scaling down communal spaces to increase social interactions was well received by attendees.
Urban planners need to give due consideration to public transportation and the connectivity infrastructure provided in cities as ease of mobility can greatly contribute to quality of life and happiness of residents. Furthermore, the arrangement of buildings within city blocks can influence the walkability factor of an area. Pedestrianizing streets, and creating dedicated bicycle networks and pedestrian bridge links may help improve the health of residents by making walking or cycling an easier choice than driving.
The panel acknowledged that while many urban projects are designed with happiness and well-being in mind, these elements get phased out in the final stages of proposals due to cost, or because they are deemed non-essential. “For the principles of healthy and happy city design to be widely incorporated in Middle East cities, they must be embedded in design, rather than considered as a value engineering item,” said Katherine Bruce.
“In recent decades, the Middle East has become an epicentre for urban development and the emergence of smart cities. In this rapidly changing landscape, it is important for there to be well defined occupant-centric policies and guidelines that ensure ongoing development takes human physical and mental well-being into account,” Phillipa Grant concluded.