The future of public space: physical activity

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The future of public space: physical activity

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We live in an increasingly urbanized world, yet physical inactivity and social isolation have become silent global epidemics that are adversely impacting public health. To tackle these challenges, more and more cities are promoting physical activity (PA) as a public health priority. Regular amounts of PA, through sports, play and mobility, can improve health outcomes and contribute to increased levels of social cohesion and wellbeing. Additionally, urban planners, urban scholars and community-based organizations (CBOs) are calling for the renewal of the association between the built environment and public health which has waned in the last three decades.

In 2016, the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) and La Fabrique de la Cité committed to a three-year research partnership to investigate the relationship between public space and the well-being of urban dwellers with the support of Arup. In our inaugural year, we focused on how to design public spaces that support opportunities for PA and social cohesion. By the end of the project, AMS Institute and La Fabrique de la Cité give input to municipalities and private actors to better monitor and evaluate public space interventions in relation to broader policy goals.

After conducting a series of urban innovation and design workshops held in Paris and Amsterdam, our researchers identified four types of design interventions that promote PA and social cohesion within public space: permanent interventions, temporary interventions, public policies that support community appropriation, and ICT-based solutions.

The purpose of this report is to present the opportunities and challenges encountered while designing public spaces that aimed to promote PA and social cohesion. Through our global benchmark of design interventions, we illustrate how public spaces are being reimagined in a number of ways to achieve public health goals. We then present some open-source, field-tested, evidence-based design protocol and monitoring toolboxes for valorising proposed urban planning interventions. Finally, we bring focus to the city of Amsterdam, where the municipality is implementing and attempting to monitor urban design interventions as part of its Moving City initiative.

For urban designers, planners and policymakers to create truly inclusive and equitable public spaces they must first consider the geophysical conditions and cultural norms of the target urban community and the funding, resources and skills of the stakeholders involved.  When redesigning public spaces, it is important to understand that there is no such thing as one-size fits all solutions.

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La Fabrique de la Cité

La Fabrique de la Cité is a think tank dedicated to urban foresight, created by the VINCI group, its sponsor, in 2010. La Fabrique de la Cité acts as a forum where urban stakeholders, whether French or international, collaborate to bring forth new ways of building and rebuilding cities.

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