People and planet: towards healthy urbanism

Cities are expanding year on year and the design of urban environments needs to cope with this. That means urban planners and designers have to think about both people and planet. 

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street. It's about people and planet.

Environmental degradation and population inequalities require a shift in understanding the nature of healthy urbanism. We need policies and decisions that positively shape neighbourhoods and buildings. That’s what Helen Pineo argues in her paper on an urban design and a planning framework. 

The WHO and UN are working with property development and urban planning professionals on the topic of healthy urbanism. Pineo notes that not all built environment professionals accept responsibility for safeguarding health and sustainability. 

It appears that the architecture profession is divided on this topic. Some say it is not their responsibility and others say it is time for them to act. 

Pineo’s article discusses the state of play internationally and reports on her findings. Structural barriers to health and a reliance on “lifestyle choices” is not effective going forward. We need broader solutions, and we need them urgently. 

To the extent that it is possible, all design and policy decisions should be inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

Distant view across Sydney Harbour looking South. Probably taken from Tarongo Zoo

The THRIVES Framework

THRIVES is the acronym of Towards Healthy uRbanism: InclusiVe Equitable Sustainable. Pineo presents the Framework as a new way of conceptualising the connection between health and built environments. 

There are three core principles, inclusion, equity and sustainability.

The Framework links planet, environment and people. 

Circular graphic showing planetary, ecosystem and local health elements and how they are connected.

The title of the article is, Towards healthy urbanism: inclusive, equitable and sustainable (THRIVES) – an urban design and planning framework from theory to praxis. It’s open access. 


This article promotes a new framework – Towards Healthy uRbanism: InclusiVe Equitable Sustainable (THRIVES) – that extends previous conceptualisations and reorients focus towards the existential threat of environmental breakdown and the social injustice created through inequitable and exclusive urban governance and design processes and outcomes.

The Framework was developed through synthesising knowledge from research and practice, and by testing this new conceptualisation in a participatory workshop. Ongoing research is exploring implementation of the Framework in practice.

If widely adopted, this Framework may contribute towards achieving the goals of sustainable development through a focus on increasing human health and wellbeing in urban development.

What’s next in urban design?

All aspects of urban design and development are undergoing technological change.  The pandemic has increased the speed of  some changes. For example, online shopping and parcel delivery, working from home and demand for green open space. The University of Oregon’s Urbanism Next Framework draws together key issues in answer to “What’s next for urban design?”

The three page framework lists the forces of change as new mobility, e-commerce, mobility as a service and urban delivery. These impact land use, urban design, building design, transportation, and real estate. The infographic below shows the kind of questions designers and policy-makers need to ask themselves. Click on the image for a better view of the infographic. 


The framework poses key questions for the future. For example:

  • How will e-commerce impact the demand for industrial land?
    • How do we protect open space under pressure to expand cities?
    • What will happen to sprawling city footprints when people don’t need to live in cities?
    • How will the need for fewer parking lots impact urban form?
    • How can the interactions between pedestrians and vehicles be managed?
    • Will new mobility reduce the demand for vehicle ownership?
    • What will draw people to places in the future?

The Framework says all these things matter for equity, health, the environment and the economy. So it is up to designers and policy makers to remember to take a universal design approach and follow co-design processes. 

From the introduction:

“One of the key challenges cities face is understanding the range of areas that are being affected or will be affected by emerging technologies, and how these areas are related. The Urbanism Next Framework organizes impacts based on five key areas— land use, urban design, building design, transportation, and real estate—and relates those to the implications they have on equity, health and safety, the environment, and the economy. It then considers what we should do to ensure that emerging technologies help communities achieve their goals.

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