A good life in a healthy city

Urban Life 31 October 2017 Neel Strøbæk Mette Søs Lassesen

More and more people are living in cities. This creates both opportunities and challenges, which need to be carefully balanced to maintain sustainable development.

4 mins

”A good city exists for the sake of a good life – not for the sake of life only.” 

The Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle spoke these words of wisdom almost 2,500 years ago. But they seem more relevant now than ever. 

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the share of the world’s population living in urban areas increased from 30% (746 million people) in 1950 to 55% (4 billion) in 2015, a figure projected to reach 60% (5.1 billion) by 2030. 

The UNDP Global Trends report “Challenges and Opportunities in the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals” concludes that this urbanisation “presents both significant opportunities and enormous challenges” – not least because it makes the issue of ensuring city residents a good life more complex. 


John D. Macomber, a senior lecturer in the Finance Unit at Harvard Business School, has no doubt that the private sector has to help build sustainable cities: 

“The problems created by rampant urbanisation are among the most important challenges of our time. They also represent one of the greatest opportunities – and responsibilities – for the private sector. Business is uniquely positioned to shape the sustainable, economically competitive cities of the future,” John D. Macomber emphasises. 

Unique set of challenges 

Ramboll’s Group Director for Sustainability, Neel Strøbæk, agrees. A speaker at this year’s UN Climate Week in New York, she emphasises that arguably the most important, integrated and holistic approach is to concentrate on what makes a city healthy. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy city “continually creates and improves its physical and social environments and expands the community resources that enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life and developing to their maximum potential.” 

“Not all cities are equally healthy, and each city faces its unique set of challenges in very different ways,” Neel Strøbæk says. 

She recognises that engineering consultancy cannot solve all the challenges a city faces. 

“But we can work holistically, complementing traditional engineering solutions with socioeconomic analyses and mapping both benefits and co-benefits. In this way we can make sure that cities become healthier,” Neel Strøbæk continues. 

She adds that investing in making cities healthier brings an infinite number of benefits: 

“Benefits include longer life expectancy, lower costs of treating lifestyle diseases, fewer respiratory conditions, better road safety and, last but not least, greater urban resilience to climate change.”

Written by Michael Rothenborg.

Graphic showing dilemmas and interdependencies in cities

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