New healthy urbanism framework reverses traditional focus on individual lifestyles, focusing on equity, inclusion and sustainability as essential components for urban health
For the attention of: Those involved with teaching and practicing urban planning, architecture, urban design, engineering, transport and public health
The problem: The idea of ‘healthy’ urban development has been narrowly framed, resulting in poor understanding of how to create places that support health and wellbeing. Health inequities have been perpetuated by a focus on individual ‘lifestyle choices’, such active travel and nutrition, which downplay the role of structural barriers to healthy living. Similarly, environmental sustainability has often been left out of public health messaging for place-making, rather than framed as an immediate imperative for human health. A new model is needed to communicate and align action for healthy urbanism.
What we did and why: We produced a new conceptual framework called THRIVES (Towards Healthy Urbanism: Inclusive, Equitable, Sustainable) that bridges social and environmental concerns to redefine healthy urban development. The framework argues for a renewed focus in built environment research and practice on the links between human, ecosystem and planetary health, that must be underpinned by the principles of equity, inclusion and sustainability. We used participatory methods to create this framework, learning from built environment and public health professionals.

Our approach adds:

  • An integrative conceptual framework explaining how urban policy and design affect health at multiple spatial and temporal scales
  • Repositioning planetary and ecosystem health as central concerns for supporting human health in cities
  • Refocusing attention on structural barriers rather than individual ‘lifestyle’ choices, necessitating inclusive processes that work for equitable outcomes
  • An open source and adaptable visual framework for healthy urban development produced through participatory methods.

Implications for city policy and practice: Participants in our workshop viewed the THRIVES framework as a lens to examine healthy urban development. It could be used to achieve the following:

  • Inform the scope and contents of impact assessment (health, environmental and strategic environmental),
  • Assess the potential for promoting health through spatial planning or design projects,
  • Support participatory design and planning by providing a shared understanding of how projects will impact health for future residents and affected populations.

Further information on the framework, including case studies can be found here:

Full research articles: