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People’s living environment impacts public health. This has been recognized long ago, and now attracts growing attention. On average, health levels in neighbourhoods that were built during the years of the post-war reconstruction (1950-1970) lag behind those found in other parts of the city – not only in the Netherlands, but all over Europe. Until recently, this has been explained mainly in terms of their physical qualities (particulate matter, noise), or associated with the characteristics of the population (groups of a lower social status and migrants being more dominant that in other neighbourhood’s). The effects of the living environment, and adaptations of it, on the lifestyles of the inhabitants of such neighbourhoods is as yet understudied. These lifestyles are related to car dependency; larger distances to facilities (within and outside the neighbourhood), barriers for pedestrians and cyclists caused by main roads cutting through them; housing densities that are too low to attract high quality facilities; related to that: insufficient accessibility to healthy food; and unsafety due to abundant greenery.

This proposal uses the Groningen neighbourhood Paddepoel as a case study to assess the impact of the living environment in neighbourhood from the reconstruction years and the potential to modify this. Paddepoel has been designed as a low density neighbourhood dominated by social housing in a limited number of building types in a sea of greenery; all facilities needed for everyday life are available in the neighbourhood, which – separated by green buffers from other neighbourhoods – is designed as a relatively autonomous unit. In the Netherlands, dozens of neighbourhoods of this type have been built between 1950 and 1970. Abroad, similar neighbourhoods based on the same model have also been built in great numbers in the same period. The project can set the agenda to reach healthier living environments in such neighbourhoods, and a piloting of the feasibility to do so in a multidisciplinary way and in co-creation with residents.

 

The innovative power of proposal is that

* its analysis of the urban structure is multidisciplinary, comprising urban architecture, environmental quality and public health. A historical overview of the origins of this type of neighbourhood, the original ambitions and modification in later years are part of this analysis;

*it proposes actual architectural and urban interventions, which will be developed in close collaboration with the inhabitants and build upon their experience and expertise;

*it uses augmented reality and virtual reality technologies to visualize these interventions, ‘measure’ their impact, and evaluate the results in advance. This component is an important intermediate step to the development of a spatial toolkit that should be applicable in all neighbourhoods of this type;

*it creates a consortium that is geared to the needs of the ambitions of this call, and combines all relevant fields of knowledge and expertise needed to realise health urban environments, with a focus on its less attractive and more deprived parts.

 

The consortium's approach will focus on three goals in phase 1, namely making an agenda and plan of action for making the living environment healthier in the post-war neighbourhoods, and actually trying out such an approach in a neighbourhood, i.e. the Groningen neighbourhood Paddepoel. Both components contribute to the third goal, creating a multidisciplinary consortium that includes urban planning, environmental sciences and public health and that can work in close collaboration with residents.

The approach regarding the Paddepoel neighbourhood regards concrete interventions in order to improve the health status of the inhabitants of this neighbourhood and by this of neighbourhoods of the same type. This approach regards three steps. Step1 is a scan that collects all relevant health data of Paddepoel and assesses how they relate to other neighbourhoods; links these data with the expertise on the impact of the urban design qualities of this model on health outcomes; and analyses the (subjective) experiences of the inhabitants. Step 2 is a pilot that, in close cooperation with the inhabitants, singles out one specific spatial component and one specific issue (in this case: mobility), in order to make a design brief as the basis for design proposals, followed by precise visualizations and an analysis of the effects of the proposed interventions by means of virtual and augmented reality. The outcomes will be discussed with the inhabitants. The principal aim of the pilot is to test the way the consortium functions in practice. Finally, step 3 streamlines the consortium, formulates an agenda for the entire neighbourhood and for all relevant aspects (apart from mobility also the accessibility of greenery, healthy food, social hubs, etc.), and yields an agenda for a comprehensive approach that anticipates phase 2 of this proposal.

 

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