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Journal article

Health and wellbeing in cities – Cultural contributions from urban form in the Global South context

This paper explores the links between urban public realm spaces and residents’ wellbeing in secondary cities in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs).

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Tuhkanen, H., Cinderby, S., Bruin, A. de, Wikman, A., Adelina, C., Archer, D. and Muhoza, C. (2022). Health and wellbeing in cities - Cultural contributions from urban form in the Global South context. Wellbeing, Space and Society, 3, 100071.

Urban public realm spaces

The definition of public realm spaces (PRS) includes physical spaces that are publicly accessible and used for group or individual activities.

Urban public realm spaces (PRS) are explicitly valued in the context of the UN SDGs, specifically target 11.7 to “provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities” by 2030.

Public realm spaces help to make cities “liveable”. Evidence shows that natural urban spaces can improve both physical and psychological wellbeing through providing “cultural ecosystem services” (CES) or the non-material benefits people obtain from nature.

In rapidly changing cities of the Global South, public realm spaces are under pressure. However, as yet there has been little research done on the benefits of public spaces in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). It is critical that evidence is gathered to strengthen the argument to maintain these assets and ensure that they are available and accessible to all. The issue is particularly pressing in secondary cities where rapidly growing populations lead to pressure to redevelop land.

This paper presents participatory geographic information system survey findings for two contrasting LMIC secondary cities (Nakuru, Kenya, and Udon Thani, Thailand). We explore the links between urban public realm spaces, CES, and residents’ wellbeing.

Our findings show that both natural and built areas are important for promoting wellbeing. This is the same in both case study cities, despite the very different ecosystems in which they are located. Whether a public realm space was used or not depends on three key factors: how close it is, how affordable it is, and how useable it is. The results also highlight the issue of spatial injustice: public realm spaces are not equitably distributed across the cities, and this has impacts on health and wellbeing.

These findings strengthen the need to promote wellbeing considerations through urban planning in rapidly changing cities to ensure their future liveability.

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Open access

SEI authors

Heidi Tuhkanen
Heidi Tuhkanen

Senior Expert (Green and Circular Economic Transformations Unit)

SEI Tallinn

Steve Cinderby

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

Diane Archer

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Asia

Cassilde Muhoza

Research Fellow

SEI Africa

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