Cities can be healthier and more livable

Traditional area development is often the sum of (sometimes conflicting) political ambitions, as a result of which plans result in “a hodgepodge of visions and features without a coherent history”, it says. Karlo Feunekes from Procap. It can be done differently and better with a conceptual approach to integrated area development, where health, vitality, quality of life, sustainability, meeting and coherence merge. “Not sectoral policy, but the end user must be central.”

Between 1950 and 2050, the world’s population will quadruple (from 2.5 to 10 billion people). The attraction to the city is enormous. In 1950, 80 percent of the world’s population lived in rural areas. By 2050, it is expected that 80 percent will actually live in cities. They are already congested and will have to accommodate 2 billion new city dwellers in the next thirty years. Major social, economic and environmental challenges lie ahead. This should not be at the expense of health and quality of life.

New thinking: healthy and livable

Project manager and consultant Karlo Feunekes tries to crack the complicated puzzle ‘healthy and viable’ for the city council. Karlo: “How do we create these future-proof cities, taking into account climate adaptation, promotion of movement, sustainable construction and alternative forms of mobility? What does it take? How do we ‘rethink’ from traditional area development to innovative concept development? As Procap, we stand for an integrated mix of design, area identity, target groups and lifestyle. In our opinion, the spatial design is not a combination of political ambitions, visions and functions, but serves a concept where health, vitality, quality of life, sustainability, meeting and coherence are connected.”

Hoog Catharijne: from concrete colossus to a cozy meeting place

What Karlo sees in many cities is a focus on one’s own pipe (read: mobility, traffic, housing or public spaces). The assessment on parts is correct, but the context is lacking. The solution for urban authorities striving for health and quality of life requires more than just technology or architecture. It requires a conceptual approach, where all the mentioned elements complement and reinforce each other. The shopping center Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht is a good example of this. It used to be a windowless concrete colossus. It was a kind of blockade in the city, which you had to pass through to get from the station to the city. The human touch was missing and shoppers invariably got lost. Hoog Catharijne is now equipped with terraces, fountains, pedestrian promenades, open spaces and connections with public transport and the city centre. The concrete colossus of the past has become a cozy meeting place for work, shopping and recreation. It has become a place where you like to be and want to live, which functions for the city as a cozy corridor that connects old and new.

Spatiality and social interaction

A lively city is a well-designed and compact city with easily accessible amenities such as schools, shops and parks. A lively city encourages walking and cycling (read: a healthy lifestyle) and offers public transport within walking distance. A livable city provides safe and affordable housing for rich and poor, young and old, autonomous and needy. Everyone is invited to participate. Key concepts are spaciousness and social interaction. Karlo: “Actually, it’s about offering comfort to all residents, users and visitors, regardless of their income, background or age. We want to show that a healthy, livable city is a concept that can be deliberately integrated into the area’s development. We create the connection to practice through our projects.”

Groningen and Selwerd

We see how Procap makes this link to practice in various area developments in Groningen, e.g. The city was always very petrified and set up for buses. Various places in the city are made car-free and more suitable for walking and cycling with terraces, parks and green facades. Adding more greenery not only provides relaxation and cooling, but also water retention, reduction of ‘heat stress’ and encounters between people. The Selwerd neighborhood deserves special mention, which has traditionally been designed for social rental housing, but where more mid-market and owner-occupied housing has now emerged. In the neighborhood, meeting places are created for the residents with benches and play equipment – with the aim that everyone can thrive and exercise healthily in Selwerd. The old shopping center still looks closed, with blind facades, but will soon look more open and friendly (possibly with a parking garage to make room above ground for a square or a park). Karlo: “This will make the atmosphere much more relaxed.”

look forward

With the expected further urbanization, we face enormous challenges. Now is the time to do something about it. It requires a different, conceptual approach if we want to ensure healthy, livable cities. Here it is necessary to link ambitions. This is the only way to achieve our goals in the areas of climate adaptation, inclusiveness (a place for everyone), health, sustainability, mobility and more. By intervening in the physical living environment with an integrated view, we help governments realize their ambitions in this area.

Karlo Feunekes works as a senior project manager and consultant at Procap, with area development expertise. Working on beautiful projects in the living environment gives him energy and makes him proud. Regardless of whether it is for residence, work or recreation. These are often complicated processes, and this is where the challenge lies for him. He likes to work with different parties to achieve the best result together. “Together we make the Netherlands a little more beautiful and more sustainable every day!” Karlo is currently working on a number of major restructuring tasks within the renewal of the Sunny Selwerd neighborhood.

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