Federation for
Housing and

What makes a city healthy?

Creating cityscapes that encourage us to play and be active is part of what makes a city healthy. But how do we create facilities and urban spaces for everyone?

Photo: Active urban culture in the heart of Copenhagen, Courtesy of: Copenhagen Media Center, Ty Stange

The healthy city is a term covering the multidimensionality of health and has a broad approach in urban planning. One main aspect is to encourage citizens to be active and move about. Thus, being a healthy, active city is to continually create and improve opportunities in the built and social environments in order to enable all citizens to be physically active in their day-to-day life.


Urban health polarization

For several years cities have been designing physically activating spaces that cater to the already active user groups. Many facilities allow for specific activities, which do not appeal to the city’s non-active user groups.  Furthermore, the performative element when we are being watched in the city keeps some people from using the urban spaces actively. In this way, the non-active groups have implicitly been excluded from the public facilities. This is a problem because we are seeing a polarization, where the inactive are continuing to be inactive, while the already active are increasing their activity.


Inclusion in public space

If decision makers want to broaden the amount of user groups of the physically activating urban spaces, they need to compromise with the level of how satisfied the narrow group of existing users are and instead focus on the common good.  In the same way, they would need to expand not the amount of the facilities they provide, but the spectrum of different kinds of facilities on offer. And herein lays the real challenge - because from a city point of view it is always easier to continue what is already a success.


Good urban design

Furthermore, there is a discrepancy between what is seen as good design amongst city planners, architects and bureaucrats, and what is considered useful, inspiring design in the public opinion.
“Often, what the users want is not what looks snappy or fancy. Typically they just want a place in the sun to sit or a level running track without holes in the ground. Often the users are not fond of the landmark and money shot projects. It is more about tapping into everyday life”, explains Bianca Maria Hermansen, urban planner and PhD.


Promoting an active urban culture

Besides building the facilities and creating the urban spaces, you also have to facilitate the use of these spaces. Events and organized street culture can help promote the use of the city. This means that an active urban culture and the right physical facilities are tightly linked and interdependent in creating a healthy city.


Recent Danish studies show that people get inspired by other people in public space. Thus, if you have a wide range of user groups that use the same urban space, they will inspire each other. Therefore, if we want to promote an active urban lifestyle we should focus on widening the amount of user groups by building usable urban spaces and facilitating an active urban lifestyle.


IFHP and the healthy city

Christina Krog, CMO of IFHP will be speaking at the International Conference on Urban Health in Manchester: Friday 7 March 2-4pm (Charter 2). Christina will focus on spatial determinants of health and health equity. The purpose of this session is to explore how best built environment professionals and public health professionals can come together in joint efforts to improve health in our towns and cities.


The IFHP also operate a workshop on urban health during the conference March 4 – 7. Two Copenhagen-based experts on active urban living, healthy and livable cities – Mette Mogensen, COWI, and Bianca Maria Hermansen, CITITEK - will focus on the role of planning and architecture when creating a healthy city.


Watch the video with the two key speakers from the workshop:



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