European Commission, Environment DG

A healthy urban habitat


Half the world's population live in cities. By 2050, the total number of urban dwellers is expected to nearly double, rising from 3.3 billion to 6.4 billion1. How do we accommodate urbanisation while ensuring good quality of life and health? How do we minimise environmental damage but still develop our cities? This thematic issue provides a window into the research evidence that can help us create healthier urban environments and more sustainable urban policies.

Transdisciplinary research is needed to develop approaches that integrate the complexity of urban challenges, otherwise it is easy to lose sight of how issues interact. 'Transport and land use planning: integrating shared strategies' illustrates how this approach can lead to more sustainable transport outcomes.

Similarly, the impacts of climate change have to be integrated with other strategies designed to improve urban living. 'Flexible approaches to managing air pollution' stresses the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to managing air pollution and climate change effects.

Improving urban waste management could help with the search for alternative energy sources and overcome a shortage of land while ensuring resources are used more sustainably (see: 'What is the best way to manage urban waste?').

Vibrant urban areas demand both new construction and a continual reworking of existing structures. This leads to opportunities to erect new eco-friendly buildings, designed for climate change mitigation and healthier lifestyles. In response, we need construction technologies which minimise impact on the environment and human health (see 'Encouraging construction companies to think green').

Motorised transport is of particular concern in urban areas and has multiple health and environmental ramifications. But perhaps the urban form itself is often the real culprit, or more specifically, the way we have quietly allowed land uses to arise in locations, and in configurations, which generate the traffic we then condemn. The article, 'Estimating exposure to excessive noise in cities', examines the extent to which traffic noise affects human health.

Research has shown that access to natural environments promotes health and creates a sense of well-being. Good urban policies are needed to ensure all citizens share in these benefits (see 'Living near parks can improve health').

Future land use planning needs to take into account the impact on sustainability and health in how we locate city functions. These aspects are as important as economic considerations, for in the long term we may have to pay a high price for unsustainable urban living.

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