This paper shows design tools and views of experienced practitioners in active urban design against a theoretical backdrop. It describes the creation process, including opportunities and inspiration to further improve the practice.
For the attention of: Physical inactivity is a big societal challenge. Dedicated urban planning and design can contribute to more active lifestyles.
The problem: This topic is popular in research and practice with many guidelines on how to design them already developed. However, evaluation of such projects remains rare, leaving opportunities to learn from past success and failure unused. Additionally, details about the creation process and its impact remain largely overlooked. Finally, it is important that research and practice on this topic remain closely connected.
What we did and why: To address these challenges and help improve the practice of creating active environments, we investigated the process of designing, implementing, and evaluating active urban environments through semi-structured interviews with eleven practitioner experts in the field of active environment design and -development. We additionally analyzed 51 examples of active environments they provided. By including both theoretical and practical views, we aim for this paper to provide valuable insights and inspiration for professionals on both sides.
What our study adds: We discuss definitions of active environments, their added value to encourage active behaviour, and provide an overview of the spectrum of design strategies, elements and boundaries used to create them. We also describe typical steps in the design and realization process, including types of stakeholders, main gaps, and points of friction in this practice.
Implications for city policy and practice: This paper underlines the potential of using urban design and planning to encourage more active behaviour. Building on knowledge from research and practice, it holds an overview of design elements and strategies to create them. It shows how this practice can be improved as it describes existing challenges and desires, opportunities to address these, and the potential of including data and smart technologies.
For further information: WHO Europe: ‘Towards More Physical Activity in Cities- transforming public spaces to promote physical activity – a key contributor to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Europe’. This report contains examples of cities that have taken the initiative to promote physical activity through improving the built environment. The main goal of this case study collection is to provide inspiration to others.
Full research article: Creating active urban environments: insights from expert interviews by Loes van Renswouw, Carine Lallemand, Pieter van Wesemael and Steven Vos.