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Background: The majority of people live in cities and urbanization is continuing worldwide. Cities have long been known to be society’s predominant engine of innovation and wealth creation, yet they are also a main source of pollution and disease. Methods: We conducted a review around the topic urban and transport planning, environmental exposures and health and describe the findings. Results: Within cities there is considerable variation in the levels of environmental exposures such as air pollution, noise, temperature and green space. Emerging evidence suggests that urban and transport planning indicators such as road network, distance to major roads, and traffic density, household density, industry and natural and green space explain a large proportion of the variability. Personal behavior including mobility adds further variability to personal exposures, determines variability in green space and UV exposure, and can provide increased levels of physical activity. Air pollution, noise and temperature have been associated with adverse health effects including increased morbidity and premature mortality, UV and green space with both positive and negative health effects and physical activity with many health benefits. In many cities there is still scope for further improvement in environmental quality through targeted policies. Making cities ‘green and healthy’ goes far beyond simply reducing CO2 emissions. Environmental factors are highly modifiable, and environmental interventions at the community level, such as urban and transport planning, have been shown to be promising and more cost effective than interventions at the individual level. However, the urban environment is a complex interlinked system. Decision-makers need not only better data on the complexity of factors in environmental and developmental processes affecting human health, but also enhanced understanding of the linkages to be able to know at which level to target their actions. New research tools, methods and paradigms such as geographical information systems, smartphones, and other GPS devices, small sensors to measure environmental exposures, remote sensing and the exposome paradigm together with citizens observatories and science and health impact assessment can now provide this information. Conclusion: While in cities there are often silos of urban planning, mobility and transport, parks and green space, environmental department, (public) health department that do not work together well enough, multi-sectorial approaches are needed to tackle the environmental problems. The city of the future needs to be a green city, a social city, an active city, a healthy city.


Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

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Open Access Journal Article

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Open Access