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People’s living environment impacts public health. On average, health levels in neighbourhoods that were built during the years of the post-war reconstruction (1950-1970) lag behind those of other parts of the city. Until recently, this has been explained mainly in terms of their physical qualities (particulate matter, noise), or in terms of the characteristics of the population (lower social status and migrants being more dominant). The effects of the urban layout on the lifestyles of the residents of such neighbourhoods are as yet understudied. There is no doubt, however, that their urban layout promotes unhealthy lifestyles by promoting car dependency; larger distances to facilities, barriers for pedestrians and cyclists caused by main roads cutting through them, etc. Related to that greenery is underused because it is experienced as unsafe. Redesigning the urban lay-out can help to remove negative qualities and foster healthier lifestyles – hence the name of the project: Urban Design for Improving Health in Groningen (UDIHiG).

 

Phase 1 revolved around a pilot project that, amongst other things, developed and consolidated the consortium that with only minor adjustments will execute the so-called research agenda. Phase 2 expands the scope of the research carried out during phase 1. Key to UDIHiG is a multidisciplinary approach that generates optimum synergy between scientific fields of different characteristics – the health sciences, the design disciplines, change management with a focus on co-creation – in order to develop a methodology that optimizes the involvement of the residents. Their involvement allows us to integrate their views in the brief for urban interventions and assess the impact of these interventions on lifestyles and health outcomes. Of particular importance is the involvement of urban planners; they introduce intervention techniques from a field that, although health motives played a determining role in its evolution, developed outside the scope of the health sciences; incorporating this domain is in line with the WHO’s ‘health in all policies’ initiative. The urban interventions are designed by the city architect – a guarantee of a professional level as well as of the ambition to integrate the findings of the project in future planning projects of the city.

 

Phase 2 increases the scope of Phase 1 by

*focusing on the entire neighbourhood (the pilot focused on the shopping centre)

*addressing a wider range of issues that relate lifestyles to the urban layout: access to greenery, the availability of social hubs, etc. (the pilot concentrated on walkability and cyclability)

*targeting all categories of the residents, addressing the full diversity of people living in Paddepoel (the pilot addressed only the elderly)

*refining the assessment process of health effects of urban interventions

*expanding the diagnostic analysis of the neighbourhood

*developing a analysis and intervention model that makes the results of this project applicable in similar neighbourhoods

 

Phase 2 envisages five Working Packages (WP’s) which address the following sub-objectives:

1: To optimise diagnostics of urban neighbourhood health and urban environment with regard to the impact of the urban environment on health behaviours and health outcomes (WP1). This will entail spatial analysis of Paddepoel and its use, of demographic data, and of health data;

2. To develop interventions to improve health behaviours by means of a redesign and adaptation of the urban environment (WP2). This will entail a healthy cities literature review, selection of sites, formulation of a design brief, urban design proposals, and their ‘translation’ in Virtual Reality, and realization of proposed interventions;

3. To enhance participation of residents and other local stakeholders in the analysis of the urban environment and co-create intervention with them by use of virtual reality tools and others innovative methods (WP3). This will entail involvement of the residents in all stages of the project; assessment via Virtual Reality of the urban interventions, and via questionnaires of their expected impact on lifestyles;

4. To disseminate findings to various stakeholders including in particular residents, urban developers, and health professionals who aim to improve health in similarly designed post-war neighbourhoods, this will entail the production of manuals and scientific papers and dissemination to various target groups (WP4);

5. In addition, UDIHiG will have a WP on management (WP5).

 

By scaling up to the basic level of the neighbourhood, UDIHiG addresses the scale that has been identified as the most important for urban public health policies. Our ambition is to underpin the by now generally acknowledged relationship between the urban and public health with hard data derived from a scientifically valid evaluation of lifestyle changes of the residents that increase their health status, thus providing solid ground for health oriented urban interventions.

 

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