Health in the scarce public space: how does it fit in?

There is a great deal of spatial pressure on the public domain these days. From water management, greening, parking, mobility hubs and play areas to benches or even picking gardens. Everything has to find a place. We also want to do something with the underground. Heat networks, glass fibre or water storage, it all has to be included. Each new transition requires a little more space. But will this still work? Partly due to the focus on environmental pollution in the Environmental Planning Act, there is a growing attention for health in the city. How do we combat air and noise pollution, for example? This places an additional claim on public space. Is this the last straw that will break the camel's back or just an opportunity to do things differently? How do we ensure that it all remains feasible?

Public space as an incentive

It is clear that the quality of public space affects our health. A pleasant green walking route with sufficient shade and seating motivates people to exercise more. Add facilities and a drinking water point and people will come outside for their daily stroll in all seasons. It not only stimulates physical activity, it also encourages social interaction. And better social cohesion, in turn, reduces depression and loneliness. A beautiful, recently realised example for stimulating interaction is the installation Prenez Place ("Have a Seat") in Montréal, by Adhoc Architectes.
(photographer: Raphael Thibodeau, source:


Health in De Stationstuinen in Barendrecht 

How do we ensure that all the wishes and requirements for a healthy public space also remain feasible and affordable? The key: don't see it as separate requirements, but as a new way of looking at things. The municipality of Barendrecht recently approached us with a similar challenge. For their new area development De Stationstuinen, the pressure on public space is already very high. They also have high ambitions for the health of the neighbourhood. But how should this be implemented in the neighbourhood? The municipality's project team consists of representatives from various fields of expertise. Together with them, we held a work session with the central question: which quality requirements for health do you recognise from your own field of expertise? Conclusion: each health requirement occurred in at least two other disciplines. It is not an additional space requirement but rather an additional benefit, because no extra square metres are needed for health gains.

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De Stationstuinen, Barendrecht - Image: Wissing / Urban Synergy, June 2020


Smart links

Health can best be seen as a new way of looking at other tasks for an area. How can we do this slightly differently so that it also has a positive health impact? It requires specific knowledge but not necessarily more space. In the Station Gardens, for example, they are now thinking about how the public space can be a place for everyone, from young to old. Playing, greenery, water, sitting and staying come together here. Cars can only drive in the area at certain points and then at walking pace. The municipality also considers the public space to be a single entity with the surrounding building walls, so that greenery on the façade and the greening of utility buildings can be included in the plans straight away. Green, healthy and social all in one.

If we want to relieve the pressure on space, it is crucial to think in terms of smart links rather than separate layers. Which requirements can we combine and how should we then describe or shape them so that the linking opportunities are actually activated?

Image from A healthy city beyond cycling, a practical guide to building healthier cities by PosadMaxwan.

To the practical guide for healthy cities