by Dr. Gregor Mews, Queensland University of Technology, School of Design
Cumulatively the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice issues, climate emergency and the extreme biodiversity loss create an unprecedented opportunity in human history to critically reflect on the state of health and wellbeing. It has become now evident that the impact of the environment affects all of us individually, on community level as well as on societal level on a profound level, which can indeed promote or inhibit mental and physical health (Dannenberg et al., 2011). In accordance to the World Health Organisation health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (World Health Organisation, 1948). The environment can be defined holistically as the result of external (or nongenetic) factors including physical, nutritional, social, behavioural and others that act on humans and the built environment is produced of (Dannenberg et al., 2011). Therefore, it is important to recognise that on every level our health and wellbeing is profoundly impacted by the environment.
On the individual subjective and perceivable level, the crisis touches us on a profound and meaningful level through personal feelings, sensations and experiences as part of our everyday life. Sennett rightly observed that the subjective experience of life undergoes a form of transformation and making a person turn outward (Sennett, 1990). Many of us can experience mental fatigue, depression, stress and anxiety- the pandemic becomes ‘very real’ and will have an outward effect. The disruption affects the production process of the social fabric of our communities and puts its connectedness and resilience to test. Local businesses are closed and people appropriate spaces between buildings in new ways. For example, people playing music on balconies in Italy. The immediate impact on the societal level occurs on a more conceived and abstract level as the full impact of the pandemic has yet to be mapped out. However, disruptions to the economics of societies suggest that business as usual is over. The public health community has long ago recognised that the connection and preventive measures is more than lowering the risks of morbidity (Schmidt, 2007). The answer is apparent, we need collective interdisciplinary collaboration that leads to transformative actions in the environment in a holistic way (Mews et al., 2018). There is sufficient evidence that suggests the way how we design and engage with the environment can enable healing conditions in which one can realise the transformative potential to feel positive in different places. Toolkits and professional expert advice are available. Consequently, the design process for a healing starts in cities. The general public and the elements that constitute the social fabric might be the right starting point to reinvigorate together an evidence-based ‘glocalised’ (we are all in this together), context and cultural specific discourse on the ‘new normal’ in relation to our collective state of health and wellbeing. In fact, urban scholars such as Georg Simmel (1903) have foreseen this long ago and realised that “The decisive fact that in the life of a city, struggle with nature for the means of life is transformed into a conflict with human beings, and the gain which is fought for is granted, not by nature, but by man.” Since the immediate impact is intensively felt on the individual level, the ‘new normal’ must be approached conceptually as part of people’ s everyday life experience such as walking around the neighbourhood or the way we engage with each other. For example, in our recent project with the Danish NGO Dreamtown in Sierra Leone we were actively seeking dialog and feedback from community members in informal settlements related to their health and wellbeing.
We all have a
choice! Perhaps we should utilise this precious moment to engage in a
meaningful qualified discourse to renegotiate the way how we socially produce
spaces for everyday life in cities and imbue physicality with new meaning,
reconnect to nature and embrace a paradigm that reminds us what makes us human
beings. This decisive moment in human history can be utilised to shift our collective
paradigm from ‘urban liveability’ to ‘urban loveability’. It is noteworthy to
mention that pre-CORVID19 the urban policy focus focused on urban liveability associated
with global rankings that attract resource rich and well-informed minorities
instead of creating meaningful outcomes for people equitable across urban
systems. This model is over-reliant on reductionist approaches that measure quantitatively
physical qualities of the environment without taking the necessary internal
dimension (non-physical) environment and local context into consideration. Under the pressures to sustain the basic level of living,
people seek ways to cater to their basic needs. The current health crisis
highlights and brings deficiencies to the fore and that have insufficiently addressed
in policies and underfunded within the pre-CORVID19 paradigm. So far this
On the contrary ‘urban loveability’ represents the next evolutionary step of liveability by taking context specific qualitative measures into consideration. It takes the local context and the internal dimension (people’s experience and mind) into consideration. By definition ‘urban loveability’ can be characterised as positive, voluntary, and intrinsic feeling, or compassionate affection, turned into a positive action that can be observed by others (Fredslund Ottosen & Mews, 2019). It uplifts the human spirit in each of us on an individual and on a collective level as part of the ordinary everyday life. Urban lovability can improve the wellbeing with a sense of immediacy, by starting to pay attention to the details of our daily existence and struggle.
While currently many people around the world experience
high levels of anxiety, stress and depression we also witnessing incredible acts
of kindness and actions aimed to lift the collective community spirit (see youtube
clip below published by the NEW YORKER).
In conclusion, let us all engage in an active discourse to renegotiate and emphasis what is of value in your own life and within our respected communities as well as societies. Now it is the time to agree on a new paradigm followed by meaningful transformative actions that turn words into actions and bring us closer together than ever before. After all we are indeed all in this together. Have the dialog related to positive actions on community and societal level (Freire, 1996) in your city or community. Step up and become a leader. With this new paradigm of ‘urban loveability’ we can make ethically conscious use of digital technology in service of a shared vision of a cities for all in which we can co-produce well -balanced healthy, just, safe, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable environments as outlined in New Urban Agenda (United Nations, 2017).
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Making healthy places: designing and
building for health, well-being, and sustainability. Island Press.
Fredslund Ottosen, N., & Mews, G. H.
(2019). Exploring New Horizons for Youth Wellbeing and Public Space in Sierra
Leone. In M. Hanzl, Reilly. J., Agrawal, M., (Ed.), Planning for Metropolitan Area (Vol. Reivew 15, pp. 332-349 ).
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oppressed (revised). New York: Continuum.
Mews, G., Muminovic, M., & Tranter, P.
(2018). Time for action. Implementing the New Urban Agenda in public spaces for
health and wellbeing. The Journal of
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Sennett, R. (1990). The Conscience of the Eye. Faber and Faber.
Simmel, G. (1903). The metropolis and
mental life. In J. J. Gieseking, W. Mangold, C. Katz, S. Low, & S. Saegert
(Eds.), The People, Place, and Space
Reader. Routledge Ltd. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315816852
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Ed.) [Outcome document]. UN-Habitat. http://habitat3.org/wp-content/uploads/NUA-English.pdf
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Health Conference. WHO. Retrieved 31 March from https://www.who.int/about/who-we-are/frequently-asked-questions
Power to the people- last Friday our team from Urban Synergies Group actively participated among many around the globe at the climate strike in Canberra, Australia. Because every action matters we were handing our infographics about climate responsive urban design and healthy living during the event which attracted 15,000 passionate individuals. We formally express our compassion and solidarity with the future generations and all living beings on this planet. To learn more about our actions visit us on https://www.facebook.com/urbansynergiesgroup/
You are invited to participate in an engaging event with Dr. Luisa Bravo, Dr. Mirko Guaralda and local experts to answer the question “How can we create an environment where social entrepreneurship can achieve better public space outcomes for the ACT population?”. Unlike traditional format our discussion leaders will co-create with you together the solutions, which will be compiled in a report that can help to shape a healthier community. Let’s us explore together pathways to accelerated community actions for a better urban future through opportunities for social entrepreneurship in Canberra’s public spaces. When: Tuesday 29th May 2018 at 5:30 - 7:30 pm at Theo Notoras Centre, 180 London Circuit, Canberra. To register please access the links in the flyer or pay on the night.
You are invited to attend our Side networking event at the upcoming World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur.
When: Sunday 11th Feb. 2018 9:00 - 11:00 am
Where: Room 406 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Success to create safe, inclusive, accessible, green and public spaces for all, requires us to address the importance of children's health and well-being in cities.
Child healthy cities need to embrace the ‘Right to the City’ concept and ensure that no one is left behind where all children have the ‘Right to Play’.
This side networking event is a platform for knowledge exchange and networking amongst stakeholders that enable tangible actions on a grassroots level and a city level worldwide committed to improving the health and well-being of the next generation.
Voices for change on the panel include:
• Dr. Luisa Bravo - President of City Space Architecture
• Ms Sudeshna Chatterjee - Board member of the International Play Association
• Ms Bryony Cooper - Sustainable Transport Policy Expert as Moderator
• Ms Joyati Das - Human Rights Activities and Associate Future Cities Research Cluster Melbourne University
• Dr. Manfredo Manfredini - University of Auckland
• Mr Gregor H. Mews - Founder & Director, Urban Synergies Group and University of Canberra
• Dr. Hendrik Tieben - Chinese University of Hong Kong
In order to harness the collective wisdom in the room the focus will be on the engagement with the audience. Together we will workshop tangible actions that can help to drive change, empower children and adolescents.
On behalf of the team at Urban Synergies Group, we wish you and your loved ones a very happy, relaxing and harmonious festive season. 2017 has been a very big year for all of us including many achievements and opportunities to drive meaningful change.
A full list of our activities in 2017 can be accessed at www.urbansynergiesgroup.org/news.
Collectively we developed and globally distributed many add value resources that can be accessed at www.urbansynergiesgroup.org/publications and we reached more than 350.000 people and 700 different stakeholder groups worldwide.
All resources are freely accessible on our website. Our membership continues to grow which will allow us to draw of a unique set of interdisciplinary skill sets.
Feel free to check out our team at www.urbansynergiesgroup.org/keypeople.
We look forward to shaping healthy spaces in even more communities worldwide in 2018, thanks to your genuine interest, trust and kind support.
Please accept our invitation to attend our side networking event at the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur in February 2018.
Very warm wishes,
Founder and Director of USG
The unintended consequences of rapid urbanisation in combination with the lack of integrated system design thinking in urban development during the 20th century created complex challenges around the world. Now, collectively we are starting to pay the price. In accordance to the latest cities and building report (UNEP, 2015) urban systems consume 80 percent of the global energy. Together they produce 75 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions and consume 75 percent of the natural resources. The evidence on hand is clear, compelling and creates an argument for crisis or in other words a call for collective realisation that business as usual is over.
This realisation will be supported by a paradigm shift of seismic proportion, which can lead us to a sustained level of health and well-being. In order to follow this path, we all must embrace the genuine spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration, system thinking approach and focus on action.
A positive case study is the Urban Thinkers Campus “Shaping Spaces for Generation Z”. The genuine collaborative spirit between UN-Habitats World Urban Campaign, University of Canberra- Health Research Institute, Urban Synergies Group and the vital support of the Australian Capital Territory Government led us to the discovery of practical ways to improve children’s’ health and well-being. The fact, that children in high and middle income countries walk less than ever before in human history creates a strong argument for change. Tangible actions that every city can put into action were agreed. Participants from 39 local and international organisations concluded that we must empower the most vulnerable members in our communities and co-design local mobility solutions with children and young people. Urban mobility plays a key role in determining the development direction of communities and can deliver practical solutions for a world that is in dire need for progressive, bold and transformative change for better health and well-being. If we can get it right for children, we can get it right for all.
While new opportunities for international leadership are on the horizon the EcoMobility World Festival and Congress 2017 in Kaohsiung represent an outstanding opportunity and bold leadership to experience a development of a positive future in the here and now.
By Gregor Mews
Mews G., Cochrane T., Davey R. (2017). Shaping Spaces for Gen Z – International Forum Report: Urban Thinkers Campus. UN Habitat - World Urban Campaign. Canberra. Australia. Accessible under www.worldurbancampaing.org
UNEP. (2015). Cities and buildings report. Retrieved from http://www.unep.org/SBCI/pdfs/Cities_and_Buildings-UNEP_DTIE_Initiatives_and_projects_hd.pdf
Urban Synergies Group. (2016). Perspective statement: Right to the City. Canberra. Australia. Retrieved from http://www.urbansynergiesgroup.org/publications
Interested in learning more about the links between road safety, active mobility and health? Access here our free webcast as part of our knowledge transfer in collaboration with GIZ Sustainable Urban Transport Program (SUTP) and World Health Organisation (WHO).
Zoom in and listen what our Founding Director Gregor Mews has to say in relation to children and the city we need. This video has been recorded as part of the World Urban Campaign's Urban Thinkers voices initiative at the 26th Governing Council Meeting of UN-Habitat in Nairobi, May 2017.
Urban living in the early part of the 21st century has not been good for children. The present generation are the least fit and the fattest that they have ever been. Social marginalisation, mental health problems and serious cardio-metabolic disorders have been on the rise in adolescence and early adulthood. On a more positive note, there is good international research evidence that many of these unwelcome facets of modern lifestyles for children could be eradicated through relatively small adjustments of the opportunities available to children, such as those that might be gained through active play and active travel to or from school.
These issues were the focus of discussion at the “Shaping Spaces for Gen-Z” Urban Thinkers Campus that was organised by the Urban Synergies Group and the Health Research Institute, University of Canberra on 8th March 2017. Hosted at the University of Canberra, Australia, the Campus focused on environments that foster healthy childhood development in the broadest sense of this term i.e. including mental and physical capacities, social and psychological development and connectedness to community. Child health, physical inactivity, environmental design, child empowerment and the right to play and interact were central themes.
The premises going in to the Forum were: (1) Current societal norms for the general physical condition of children are too low, (2) Current societal norms for body weight status are too high, (3) Many children today have fewer opportunities to develop social skills and psychological resilience than they would have had in the past and (4) To reverse these trends will require a societal shift, with specific objectives to be agreed as the core drivers for change and the available societal resources aligned to achieve those objectives. The societal challenges posed for discussion were:
- All children have the right to the best opportunities we can provide for their social, psychological and physical development – how can we do this better?
- We need to provide more opportunities for children to achieve and maintain good general levels of physical activities as a lifestyle norm – how can we achieve this?
One hundred and twenty delegates attended. There was good representation from the key stakeholder groups: Parents, General Public, Government, Non-Government Organisations, Health, Academia and Community Services. Education other than tertiary, Commercial organisations and Sports organisations were not well represented.
The “Shaping Spaces for Gen-Z” Urban Thinkers Campus, Canberra, Australia on 8th March 2017 contributed to the following 9 of 17 Sustainable Development Goals:
- Good health and well-being
- Quality education
- Gender equality
- Industry innovation and infrastructure
- Reduced inequalities
- Sustainable cities and communities
- Life on land
- Peace, justice and strong institutions
- Partnership on goal
The outcomes of the Urban Thinkers campus will be presented at a side event at the 26th UN-Habitat Governing Council Meeting in Nairobi on the 8th May 2017 between 1 and 1.45 pm in Conference room 11. Should you not be able to make it, don't worry as the final report is now available. To access the core findings and co-designed solutions that can enable actions for better health outcomes for children and young people in urban systems access can be download here.
On the 2nd of March 2017 our Founder Greg Mews was invited by Lighthouse Business to introduce Urban Synergies Group vision to a wide audience in only five minutes. The topic was "The 100 year life" as part of their Festival of Ambitious ideas.
Check out the video clip and be part of the conversation.