How does urban planning impact health?

April 07, 2023

The rapid and poorly planned urbanization of Latin America and the Caribbean has created many challenges such as housing affordability, sustainability of transport or safe access to water and sanitation services. While many of the challenges of poorly managed urbanization can impact people’s quality of life in many respects, its effects on physical and mental health merit special emphasis.

Below are some examples: An estimated 21% of the urban population lives in informal settlements with no access to adequate services and infrastructure, especially drinking water, thus depriving millions of safe access and leading to high exposure to water-borne diseases, which especially affects mortality of children under 5 years of age.

Around 36% of the noise generated in cities comes from traffic, caused by private cars and public transport. City residents pay little attention to this phenomenon, although it has a significant impact on—for instance—the increase in blood pressure of children.

Another example is that the lack of adequate infrastructure (squares, parks, bicycle lanes) discourages the practice of physical activities. In the region, the number of people who refrain from such activities has risen to 39% in recent years. This may become a breeding ground for diseases such as breast cancer or diabetes with—in addition—a differentiated impact on women, as insecurity often discourages women and girls from doing physical activity compared to men.

At CAF—development bank of Latin America—we have developed a guide for healthier cities, which provides conceptual frameworks, recommendations and practical examples for city healthier living based on the joint work between the urban planning and health agendas at the municipal level, following internationally available best practices.

This guide shows resources that local governments can utilize to produce healthier urban environments, e.g., regulating land use can ensure and preserve the quality of natural resources, encourage physical activity, while promoting the proper use of infrastructure and make it economically viable, thus facilitating access to fresh, high-quality food.

The integrated management of municipal solid waste is a main pillar to plan, consolidate and sustain healthier cities. Safe infrastructure is also essential for both accessibility and sustainable mobility. Local governments play a pivotal role in improving safety at critical points in road infrastructure, thus promoting enforcement of regulations and ensuring compliance.

A health-based approach in all policies becomes an opportunity for local governments in our region to rethink coordinated and inter-sectoral actions in healthcare and urban development. This guide seeks to become a contribution towards this goal.

Ángel Cárdenas
Ángel Cárdenas

Gerente de Desarrollo Urbano, Agua y Economías Creativas, CAF -banco de desarrollo de América Latina y el Caribe-