The Impact of the Urban Environment on Public Health

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New research has been carried out by the building science organisation BRE, identifying a variety of indicators regarding the effects of buildings and urban environments on public health.

The BRE Healthy Cities Index (HCI) and BRE Causal Pathways Framework inform built environment companies in terms of development and urban planning, placing public health as a top priority.

The research has demonstrated that indicators and associated materials can inform city government practitioners, and frame discussions about urban health challenges and potential policy solutions.

Over its five-year course, the project captured 58 evidence-based indicators, separated into 10 categories within urban environments, including air quality and noise pollution. The project captured metrics from London, Los Angeles and Dubai; pilot projects were also undertaken in the London Borough of Southwark as well as in the UAE capital.

Simon Bevan, Director of Planning, Southwark Council, said: “As a public authority making decisions about urban planning in a challenging political environment we want to show that we are basing decisions on evidence and being transparent about the decision-making process. Choosing indicators and regularly monitoring performance against them should, therefore, be central to all that we do.”

In 2017, the European Commission issued a warning to the UK for failing to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 16 cities including London, Glasgow and Leeds.

BRE’s project draws attention to the issues surrounding the indicators it measures, such as air pollution, however, does not provide evidence to support solutions nor which sectors are best-placed to act. However, this in itself is a core motivation for the project, as it shows the collaborative effort required to improve urban health, encouraging built environment professionals to play their part.

Project lead and Associate Director of Cities at BRE, Helen Pineo said: “The BRE HCI and Causal Pathways Framework help explain the link between urban and built environment exposures and health outcomes. Cities can use the framework to trace the impact of policy and design decisions to wellbeing outcomes. The Causal Pathways Framework, for example, has the capability to drill down into specific challenges such as air quality, and examine the interconnected elements of the built environment that contribute to air pollution which require action from multiple public and private sector stakeholders.”

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