Book Review: Fundamentals of Planning Cities for Healthy Living

Fundamentals of Planning Cities for Healthy Living 

BY Avi Friedman and Alexandra Pollock (Anthem Press, 2024)

REVIEW Ian Chodikoff 

Avi Friedman and Alexandra Pollock believe we should consider our cities as “exercise machines.” In Fundamentals of Planning Cities for Healthy Living, they critically examine urban design’s integral role in shaping public health outcomes. This book aims to support the work of design professionals, often emphasizing the self-evident: our built environment directly influences lifestyle choices related to physical activity, nutrition, social interactions, public health and climate change. 

The book highlights the disparity in health outcomes observed in underinvested urban neighbourhoods. The lack of access to recreational spaces, healthy food options, and safe pedestrian routes exacerbates issues like obesity, diabetes, and mental health disorders, especially in lower-income neighbourhoods. The authors call for a multidimensional approach that includes strategies like food security, active mobility, green spaces, and inclusive public places. The book also stresses the need for greater cooperation between government, private and healthcare sectors, nonprofits, and more effective public awareness campaigns, underlining the procedural tactics necessary to move the needle for healthier outcomes for our cities and urban populations. The authors recognize that urban design needs to be justified in economic, environmental, and sociological terms, and actors in any community will disagree on how to prioritize action. I would have appreciated a deeper discussion on the process of working with those disparate actors rather than a checklist of healthy design outcomes. Nevertheless, case studies, such as the Grow Community in Washington or the Skaftkarr community in Porvoo, Finland, provide concrete examples of how cities can foster active living and social well-being. Other examples, like Edmonton as a “Winter City,” are presented as a paradigm for designing urban environments that remain vibrant and accessible year-round despite challenging weather or geographic conditions.

One of the book’s strengths lies in its historical analysis, tracing the inexorable decline of planning for health, which has only contributed to other global challenges, such as warming climates, aging populations, and widening income disparities: this is an excellent argument for re-integrating health considerations into contemporary urban planning.

It is reassuring to read that the authors allude to the critical role technology and policy play in advancing health-centred urban design, from using digital apps to enhance access to health services and information, to zoning and land-use regulations. 

Concluding with a call to action for urban planners and architects to adopt a holistic, life-cycle approach to planning that accounts for the changing needs and dynamics of urban populations, the book provides insights and strategies for creating healthier, more equitable urban environments. By reading this book, the reader will become more informed and knowledgeable about the profound impact that thoughtful, intentional design can have on the health of urban populations.

As appeared in the June 2024 issue of Canadian Architect magazine