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AESG conducts forum on healthy, happy cities

Company unveils three pillars of urban design, highlights the imperativeness of proper planning of nature, neighbourhoods and networks for wellbeing of urban residents

| | Jul 7, 2019 | 3:08 pm
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Phillipa Grant

DUBAI, UAE, 7 July 2019: Dubai-headquartered specialised consultancy firm, AESG recently conducted a forum, titled ‘Designing for Healthy, Happy Cities’ in Dubai, during which it hosted regional industry professionals from government bodies, private developers, engineers, architects, urban planners, academics and consultants, the firm said through a Press communiqué. The backdrop of the forum, the firm said through the communiqué, is that 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, the communiqué highlighted the importance of adopting new urban planning approaches that safeguard the future wellbeing of residents in cities across the Middle East.

Outlining the main areas of concern to the gathered group of key stakeholders, Phillipa Grant, Head of Energy and Sustainable Development, 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.”

Katherine Bruce

According to the communiqué, some of the detrimental impacts of urban versus rural living include social isolation, increased stress and anxiety, air pollution and obesity. In view of that, the communiqué said, AESG invited regional health and wellbeing, and design experts to discuss potential solutions to current and future issues. The panel included Rula Sadik, Regional Director, Stantec; Steven Velegrinis, Head of Masterplanning, AECOM; Dr Nada Chami, Business Development Manager, Saint Gobain UAE; Shaun Killa, Design Partner, Killa Design, as well as Grant and AESG Sustainability Consultant, Katherine Bruce, the communiqué said.

According to the communiqué, 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, the communiqué said, before enumeration on them, as follows…

Nature

As exposure to natural surrounding is fundamental to the wellbeing 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 citizens and residents with one another and their natural surroundings, and noted the need to address this.

Neighbourhoods

Communities need design principles that encourage social interaction. The experts emphasised 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.

Networks

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. Pedestrianising 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 wellbeing 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,” Bruce said.

Grant added: “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 wellbeing into account.”

 


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