Fit for the future?

Urban Life 7 November 2017 Neel Strøbæk

Air pollution and other health problems in growing cities are huge challenges that require different solutions, depending on local conditions. But an integrated Nordic approach can be used globally.

8 mins

Across the world, many cities are struggling to offer a healthy environment for their booming populations. 

According to the United Nations, around 1 billion people worldwide live in slum conditions such as inadequate sanitation or water, poor access to healthcare and an increased risk of infectious disease. Even in richer countries, city lifestyles can bring serious health problems like obesity, diabetes and debilitating stress. 

Then there is the mounting problem of air pollution, which the World Health Organisation says has now become the world’s greatest environmental health risk, linked to one in eight of total global deaths. 

These major city problems are closely related to the world’s health challenges, but engineering can solve some of the issues.

Health effects of active travel 

In the developed world, smog levels are typically so relatively low that the benefits of active travel in cities exceed the disadvantages. But how can those benefits be qualified? 

A Ramboll team has modelled the positive effects of constructing new pathways that would increase walking and cycling in cities in western Sweden. 

The team developed a mathematical model that shows how various route scenarios would impact the incidence of diseases like heart disease, dementia and diabetes in the population and thus engender health and economic benefits. The model also calculates the reduction in air pollution that would result from these initiatives as well as from the relocation of existing roadways and other infrastructure changes and improvements. 

The outcomes projected by this analysis are helping municipalities in West Sweden guide public policy. The project team has been awarded a research grant from the Nordic Knowledge and Innovation Fund for a project to further explore the development of health aspect information in environmental impact assessments, with the potential to expand this work to other locations globally. 

A Nordic approach in India 

The Nordic approaches to more sustainable and healthy cities are not so Nordic that they cannot be used elsewhere in the world. This was the conclusion of a delegation of city planners from India who visited several Ramboll projects in September 2017. 

“The basic challenges of urbanisation are in many ways the same,” says Prathima Manohar, founder of the Mumbai-based liveable cities think tank The Urban Vision and one of the visiting delegates.“How do you build sustainable and liveable buildings and infrastructure when cities are growing so rapidly? We have all learned at school and university that it is necessary to be peoplecentric, but we tend to forget it in practice. 

Copenhagen is proof that enhancing sustainability and liveability with, for example, trees, parks and small rivers or canals often does not cost more than just building in a grey concrete style that is not people-centric,” says Prathima Manohar. 

Ramboll already operates in India. India’s government recently launched a plan to transform 98 of its cities into smart cities – an undertaking that includes just about every urban challenge from housing and traffic management to public health, water use and education. 

In 2016, 20 cities were chosen for the upgrade, including Udaipur in the Rajasthan province. To ensure a “smart” transformation Ramboll has worked with the National University of Singapore to create a comprehensive water, traffic and biodiversity plan.

Written by Michael Rothenborg.