With the arrival of the environmental and planning act, municipalities will get the responsibility to achieve and maintain a healthy and safe living environment. This raises several questions, particularly regarding the collaboration between different organizations and disciplines. From a scientific viewpoint, knowledge about the relationships between environmental characteristics on the one hand and health behavior, participation in society and health on the other, still has many gaps. Because of these scientific knowledge gaps as well as the municipal need for such environment-health information, the consortium of ‘Ruimte maken voor Gezondheid In De Stad (RuimteGIDS) created a South Limburg research agenda during phase 1 of this research program (‘Make Space for Health’). From this ‘South Limburg knowledge agenda’ became clear that the most pertinent question about a healthy urban living environment relates to facilitating healthy meeting places for residents. This question was followed by questions about physical activity and active transport, a socially inclusive living environment, collaboration between residents and professionals and finally questions related to the execution of an integrated approach.
The overall objective of RuimteGIDS phase 2 is to generate knowledge on achieving and maintaining a (positive) healthy living environment that supports urbanized municipalities in South Limburg and the Public Health Authority of South Limburg in integrating positive health in environmental planning. To this end, the consortium will engage with four spatial planning projects currently being implemented in Maastricht and Kerkrade. This has been approved and encouraged by the steering group of the consortium and found to be suitable to answer the questions in our knowledge agenda. The projects will be turned into ‘joint learning projects’. This involves the formation of a ‘joint learning community’ around each spatial planning project. Regarding aims, the four learning projects (two in the city of Maastricht, two in Kerkrade) have in common that they focus on facilitating social contact, creating more opportunities for physical activity and stimulation of societal participation. In all cases, the use of greenspace has been explicitly considered as means to achieve the aims. Also in all cases, social safety has explicitly been mentioned as a factor to take into account. As these aims are shared but their weight varies per learning project, this allows for a mixed-methods approach research methodology to evaluate progress. The four learning project objectives include:
- Learning project Maastricht East is focused at studying the effect of cross-connection cycling and walking zones and green spaces in a post-war district on play, exercise, social interaction and positive health.
- Learning project Maastricht West aims to study the effect of meeting places, green spaces, and a cycling and walking route to the city center in a pre-war district on social safety and positive health.
- Learning project Kerkrade West aims to understand the participatory process and residents’ engagement in a shrinking district where environmental restructuring was implemented, impacted planning choices, subsequent use and ultimately impacts health, specified for different subgroups (i.e. socio-economic position, health status, and age).
- Learning project Kerkrade North aims to study how the participatory process between residents, professionals and policymakers from different disciplines can best be organized to plan, achieve and maintain a healthy living environment that contributes to positive health.
By adopting a realist synthesis orientation in an expert meeting, the consortium RuimteGIDS will identify which programme elements ‘work’, why and in what circumstances. This will facilitate the transfer of elements from phase 2 to other municipalities in the South of Limburg, but also to other areas in the Netherlands.