Our systematic review of the impacts of neighbourhood design on well-being found strong evidence linking design principles such as walkability and access to green space with health and well-being.

For the attention of: Spatial planning and health teams, planners and consultants in public health

The problem: The design of a neighbourhood plays a central role in shaping the health and well-being of residents. Several studies have investigated the impacts of neighbourhood design on health and well-being. Yet, there are limited reviews investigating the quality of the evidence and the most effective interventions at a population level.

There is a need to present a holistic account of the relationship between urban environment and well-being and identify gaps in the evidence base.

What we did and why: We conducted a systematic review of existing evidence investigating the impact of neighbourhood design on health and well-being. A total of 7694 research articles and published reports were screened to identify studies that matched our aims and objectives. Studies selected for inclusion were subject to a rigorous quality assessment process using the Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies following which 22 studies deemed to be of moderate or high-quality were included in the findings.

What our study adds: Evidence from our review reinforces existing research about the important associations between neighbourhood design and well-being.

  • There was strong evidence linking walking and cycling infrastructure with increased physical activity and active transport
  • Poor neighbourhood quality increases the risk of functional loss
  • The evidence linking neighbourhood green quality and mental health was limited

Our review also identified areas of uncertainty such as associations between proximity to green space and the increased risk of asthma among children.

Implications for city policy and practice: For urban health we found it important to note that promoting health through the design of the neighbourhood can improve wellbeing and quality of life at a population level. However, there is also need for more rigorous empirical studies that will enable the identification of the causal relationships.

Link for further information: The UPSTREAM project: Working with the UK’s major delivery agencies – landowners, developers, asset managers, local government – using live large-scale urban development projects as case studies, and quantifying external costs from associated health impacts using economic valuation, the project explores the barriers and opportunities for integrating health outcomes, focusing in particular on upstream decision-making.

Full research article: Designing Healthier Neighbourhoods: A Systematic Review of the Impact of the Neighbourhood Design on Health and Wellbeing by Janet Ige-Elegbede, Paul Pilkington, Judy Orme, Ben Williams, Emily Prestwood, Daniel Black and Laurence Carmichael.