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How to create good living conditions for urban populations?

Edited on

09 October 2017
Read time: 4 minutes

Understanding the relationship between “quality of life” and “quality of place” is a key for urban practitioners to be in a position to propose projects that improve the well-being of inhabitants.
In his article summarized here, Philip Stein, URBACT Thematic Pole Manager, analyses the results of URBACT projects dealing with quality sustainable living. According to him, the main lesson is that integrated approaches are necessary to propose sustainable solutions.

Quality sustainable living depends of a wide range of factors
What defines quality sustainable living? According to Philip Stein, the list of factors and indicators often vary, but a common core of factors exists. It includes among others: living and housing conditions, health, poverty, work, income, the environment, services, safety, infrastructure and mobility.

Quality of life results from a complicated range of factors that are interdependent and interlinked. Therefore it can only be improved through the development of an integrated approach taking into account more than one of these factors.

Three URBACT projects, three different ways of approaching the issue of quality of life

24 cities in 3 URBACT projects have worked together to better understand what cities can do - and have done in the past - to improve quality of life, from different perspectives. They also looked at how they could act in the future to deliver quality sustainable living.

HOPUS promoted design codes as an instrument to ensure better quality of buildings in housing areas, while SUITE analysed how to provide an adequate supply of affordable housing.

The most unexpected angle was the one developed by Building Healthy Communities (BHC). The project focused on health policies as a way to improve urban living conditions. Today, in a climate of austerity, improving and maintaining quality sustainable living is important for everyone, the question is not anymore limited to improving quality of life of those in difficulty off the back of a boom period.

Health in urban policies: does it matter?

A close look at the results of Building Healthy Communities can help understand how health policies are important to solve some specific urban issues. The partners of BHC project brought the objectives of “health in all policies” into interaction with the process of urban regeneration, as a new way of looking at the link between quality of life and quality of place. 

Combining current expertise and local experiences, the project partners were able to build, and test, a set of indicators that can be used to assess urban regeneration plans, as regard to the objective of achieving healthy sustainable urban development.  It covers issues of economic development, cultural and social cohesion and environmental regeneration. It includes direct references to health factors but also to other community and neighbourhood characteristics which strongly influence well-being and quality of life, such as education levels, access to services, transport and green space provision.
According to Philip Stein, one of the strength of this toolkit is the possibility to use it as a reference framework to define coordinated action areas, and the different levels of responsibility and cooperation required to apply an integrated approach, as well as for monitoring the effect of an intervention.

One good example on how such a set of indicators can be used in order to take into consideration the improvement of health conditions, is the one of the municipality of Barnsley (UK). The Barnsley Local Support Group focused on the district of Attersley North, which faces multiple deprivations (high unemployment, low levels of education, high incidence of physical and mental health). It applied the reading grid produced by BHC and as a result its Local Action Plan has been directed at raising awareness on educational opportunities and also at tackling alcohol, drugs, vandalism and anti-social behaviour problems. Its main targets were to increase opportunity levels, contribute to sustainable mobility policies and to promote physical activity as a means to positively change people’s way of life in the area. The Local Action Plan is linked to the City Council’s “workplace and school” travel plans. It takes benefit of improvements in the urban environment such as new walking and cycling paths to encourage active travel to work, leisure, shops etc.  

Sustainable urban development has many variables, health is an important one. The example of Barnsley shows how thinking quality of life together with quality of space can provide the adequate framework for sustainable development, providing urban renewal and at the same time making a health difference for target populations.

Read more:

•  Full article in “PDF icon Download URBACT Project Results First Edition (18.49 MB)” brochure, p 149 - PDF
•  SUITE results – URBACT website
•  HOPUS mini-site – URBACT website
•  BHC results – URBACT website