Research to explore urban space and women’s wellbeing

Posted on 2nd October 2013

A new project to develop our understanding of how cities can enable women to achieve healthy and sustainable lives gets under way this month, working closely with funding partner Bupa.

The 3 year Outdoor Cities project is taking place across several of the world’s major cities including New York, Bogota, Copenhagen and Hong Kong, and is aiming to understand how outdoor spaces in cities centres and residential areas can benefit women from low and middle income backgrounds.

One of the project’s lead academics, Dr Felicity Thomas, thinks most of us know that our health and wellbeing are intimately related to the environment in which we live, “Judging by the numbers in the UK who flocked to the countryside and the beach this summer, few of us would argue that we find being outdoors in natural settings beneficial – both for health enhancing exercise and the restoration of our sense of wellbeing.”

However, Dr Thomas argues that increasing urbanisation, sedentary lifestyles and degraded city environments is meaning that many urban dwellers are becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural world, and the benefits associated with being outdoors.

Examples from a number of cities across the globe show that innovative approaches to urban design, transport and open space can enable people to engage with the outdoor environment in ways that enhance individual health and wellbeing. Bogota in Colombia for example, is well known for its ciclovia, a scheme that on one day each week excludes cars from 97km of the city’s roads so that they can be used by cyclists and pedestrians; New York is hailed for its active-living focused urban design; and Denmark for its pedestrian and cycling-focused culture.

“Despite initiatives like these,” says Thomas “issues such as lack of safety and sanitation, alongside restrictive socio-cultural norms, can play a major role in reducing women’s willingness – and ability – to actively use outdoor space.”

As a result, women in cities across the globe tend to report higher rates of physical inactivity than men, and are disproportionately affected by a range of non-communicable diseases.

Understanding these complex issues lies at the heart of the Outdoor Cities project, as it sheds light on the ways that urban inhabitants in different cultural contexts make health and sustainability-related lifestyle decisions. Ultimately the team are hoping to develop a high profile network of shared learning between cities, to improve women’s health and wellbeing.

Read more about the project here

Read a Guardian article on the project here

Image courtesy of pisaphotography and


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