• Q&A: Urban Spaces Can Reduce Loneliness and Obesity

    The city has been his training facility throughout most of his life. Now, urban planner and landscape designer Rasmus B. Andersen specializes in designing truly active, health-promoting urban spaces that potentially can help reduce lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, and loneliness. 

  • Why do we need to increase focus on health-promoting urban spaces?

    Today, unfortunately, many cities prevent people from living a healthy life, for instance by promoting an infrastructure centered on cars. Imagine the opposite! With the increase in lifestyle diseases all over the world, there is an obvious need for planners and cities to promote a healthy, active lifestyle and enable social encounters. The potential of the urban realm as health-promoter is big, but we fail to see it. I would like for urban spaces to make us move and interact differently, nudge us to intuitively play, to meet in new ways, drive us out of our homes, walk up stairs, go down new roads and on steep surfaces etc.

    How are cities not active enough as they are?

    We see many urban street activities in cities today, like skate areas and basketball fields etc., which is great. However, these spaces often attract people who are already active. What about everyone else – young girls, elderly, families? We need to come up with many more kinds of urban spaces that promote activity in numerous ways. To do so, we must invent design metrics for all sorts of activities. But this takes a thorough knowledge of sports and movement. Activity has its own autonomy, and you need to know a certain activity really well to be able to design the perfect conditions for it to unfold. You also need to know the demographics of the city and the needs of the specific group of citizens to make sure the urban areas you design are a right fit. This is very much a practice of interdisciplinary collaboration.

    How do we get there?

    We need to develop a method and an approach that can assess the health effects of an urban space. Research has already stated the massive effects of movement, social encounters and the like when it comes to preventing and curing lifestyle diseases, loneliness, depression etc. The next level is the operational layer and the ability to measure the actual effects of the health-promoting design choices. Today, we can anticipate the effects of design measures with regard to daylight, sun inflow etc. I hope to be able to anticipate the health effects of a given urban space before construction as well.

    What is your hope for future cities?

    What I really would love to happen is that developing socially and healthy sustainable environments and cities, that can actually make us healthier and happier and decrease lifestyle diseases, will become metric of success for all developers and be an integrated part of any design process. Now, we plan roads, parking, and buildings first, and then attempt to fit in activities. What if we did a flip trick and planned the urban spaces and activities first instead? At the same level as any other design parameter. That is my dream.

    Besides from being an architect, Rasmus B. Andersen is also a retired professional skater. He has specialized in active urban spaces during 8 years of leading his own company.

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