About us

Our story

At Healthy Cities, it’s essential that our work and tool are based on evidence: drawn from both science and healthy planning practice. We are driven to continuously improve our approach as new evidence becomes available.

Discover how our work has evolved over the years – from our planning practice and initial research to a healthy urban planning movement.

Loulé, Portugal before and after Healthy Cities
Initial research and our award-winning healthy urban plan

An initial systematic review of the literature (Puig-Ribera and Rofin, et al., 2017) identified significant associations between urban planning attributes and health outcomes. This research fed into a checklist to help urban planners incorporate evidence-based planning actions into their plans. Our founder put this knowledge into practice in an award-winning masterplan that put health at the heart of its design.

Expanding our model with further research and international expert validation

The Healthy Cities team brought the review up to date with a meta-analysis (publication forthcoming) of studies from 2017-2021. The results showed additional links between urban planning and health, expanding the urban planning attributes to 20 and associated health outcomes to 30. We further expanded our knowledge through research assignments for British and Spanish government agencies and validated the results with international experts.

Comparing The Healthy Cities Generator with other tools

We carried out scoping research into the state of the art in healthy urban planning tool design. Our analysis found that most existing easy-to-use tools are limited in scope or depth, whereas holistic tools tend to be complex and time-consuming (paper under review in Perspectives in Public Health). The Healthy Cities Generator was designed to fill this gap, providing a simple, interactive, holistic tool to help plan healthy cities.

Building an algorithm; from checklist to scoring; from science to practice

Building on the research, our team created an algorithm to underpin the first online iteration of the tool. To make this resource accessible to practitioners, we designed a user-friendly application that automatically scores the health impacts of an urban plan or existing space. Later, after research for government health agencies, we added the health entry point: where you can select your health goals to guide your planning strategy.

Testing and scaling in European practice; towards a Beta version of the tool

The initial tool was put to the test in cities across Europe, including with the nine municipalities in the URBACT Healthy Cities Action Planning Network. These pilots showed the value of a rigorous health impact assessment tool that draws on healthy planning evidence and engages local communities. Lessons learnt on the tool’s design and content fed into the continual evolution of the Healthy Cities Generator.

Validating design and research with international expert roundtables

Throughout the development process, we held a series of roundtables with international and local experts in health and planning to validate the research and ensure the Generator fulfilled the needs of practitioners. These contributions were extremely valuable for increasing the quality and credibility of the tool, but also to better explain the tool and underlying concepts. New users from various professional backgrounds and geographies brought fresh perspectives, improving the tool and our approach.

Continuous maintenance and future development of the tool

Our team is continuously improving the tool with new research and functionalities to deepen topics (such as social impact of urban planning) and adapt it to specific needs (mobility, greening, housing, etc), as well as to tailor it to local context and languages. The tool is freely available for all to use, and we continue to invest in maintenance and upgrades, because we are committed to putting health at the heart of evidence-based urban planning.

Beyond our tool: Healthy Cities LAB & Healthy Cities ACTION

Alongside the Healthy Cities Generator, we launched Healthy Cities Lab (research and training) and Healthy Cities Action (bridging knowledge with action) to expand our work beyond the tool. Examples of our Healthy Cities Lab work include research assignments exploring the wider health and planning landscape, and delivering training sessions in healthy city planning to local authorities. For Healthy Cities Action, we have used our expertise in the areas to design urban health strategies and create healthy urban plans.

Many organisations and individuals have contributed to this movement. From expert reviews to consultancy assignments, case studies, financial and in-kind investments, promotion and simply the use of the Health Cities Generator.

We thank everyone who has contributed to the tool and are eager to collaborate with anyone who wishes to be part of our movement. Get in touch to explore the healthiest options for your city!

Contributors