Living space and health: How urban design affects our well-being

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URBAN and housing design has intimate connections to health. Poor design choices can worsen health, with underlying issues of inequality a driving factor.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.”

This includes housing, food, clothing, medical care, social services, and security if events beyond a person’s control affect their livelihood.

Researchers have shown that adequate housing has intimate links to a person’s physical and mental well-being.

According to the Executive Summary of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Housing and Health GuidelinesTrusted Source, poorly designed housing can increase the risk of trips, falls, injury, isolation, and stress for older people or people with disabilities.

Further, insecure or unaffordable housing can exacerbate stress. Housing that is too hot or cold or exacerbates indoor air pollution can cause respiratory and cardiometabolic issues.

Crowded housing or housing with a poor water supply can increase the spread of infectious diseases.

Speaking to Medical News Today, Robert Huxford, Director of the Urban Design Group, London, said that questions around the relationship between health and urban or housing design have a long history.

“It’s often forgotten that the links between housing and urban design and health go back hundreds of years, such as the 19th-century public health movement, including the Health of Towns Association of the 1840s, or the Model Byelaws issued in the 1870s, that governed urban development in England for the next 50 years.”“They focused on lighting, ventilation, overcrowding, damp, and sanitation.

They specified the minimum width of streets, minimum spaces around buildings, and that habited rooms should have a window at least one-tenth of the floor area. Over 100 years on, developers are bringing forward proposals for windowless flats.”

For Huxford, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought historical concerns around housing and infectious diseases back to the fore. “In the 19th century, the main causes of death were infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, cholera, and typhoid,” said Huxford.

“The public health works of the 19th and 20th-century saw infectious disease brought under control, further aided by advances in medical science.

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