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Healthy City Design 2020

HCD 2020: Designing a new world: insights and paradigms

By SALUS User Experience Team 09 Feb 2021 0

The revenge of the suburbs, solving the urban paradox, and taking control by getting up and doing things. These were just a handful of the many insights and paradigms on ‘designing a new world’ that the three eminent keynote speakers shared with delegates during the opening session of the second day of the 4th Healthy City Design Congress.


Starting proceedings was Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, who, unsurprisingly, said 2020 would not be going down as a great year for the city in established economies. But he warned that we need to be a bit careful about the many headlines today claiming that the pandemic has changed everything forever and the “old normal” will never return.

“When we look at people’s values as opposed to their behaviours, they don’t necessarily change nearly as much as we might think,” he said. “So our behaviours in 2020 have shifted dramatically, but when we look at people’s underlying values and beliefs, they seem to change a bit less.”

He questioned: “The world is likely to continue to become more urban but what sort of urban will it be?” With many people wanting to move away from the city or town centre, Page suggested this could herald “the final revenge of the suburbs”, which, until relatively recently, have received a bad press. Whether this plays out is uncertain but he believes that cities are going to have to reinvent themselves and address inequality following the pandemic, focusing on the benefits of agglomeration and bringing people together.

“Great cities like London, Paris, Tokyo, have survived wars, famines, pestilence, etc before,” he concluded. “They’re not going to go away but they may be a little bit different.”

The relationship between the city and the rural countryside in respect of food and how we eat was the topic of the next keynote speaker, Carolyn Steel’s talk. An architect and author, Steel published a new book, Sitopia: How food can save the world, as the UK entered its first lockdown in March.

She explained how today, landscapes don’t feed us anymore, they’re often thousands of miles away, and they’re often radically de-natured. This loss of contact she described as “the urban paradox”. As a counter, she derived the word “Sitopia” from Greek and conjured it up as an alternative to “utopia” to mean “food place”. 

“The fundamental questions haven’t changed: how are we going to eat? How are we going to make our home in a landscape? And how are we going to maintain a balance between society and nature?” said Steel. “And that’s at the heart of all utopian thinking – from the Ancient Greeks and Plato, to Sir Thomas More, to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City movement. It’s about solving the urban paradox.

“Sitopia is a food-based alternative to utopia to think in a multidisciplinary way about the profound questions of what is a good life and what is a good society? And how are we going to live on the planet?”

Growing your own, sharing cooking tips and providing healthy food locally were examples of health creation that Lord Nigel Crisp shared with delegates in the final keynote talk. His latest book, Health is made at home, hospitals are for repairs, came out as the UK emerged from the first lockdown, and it can be described as a celebration of the many people in communities up and down the country who are creating the conditions for people to be healthy and helping them to be healthy – the so-called health creators.

As a former NHS chief executive, Lord Crisp acknowledged the fantastic work of healthcare workers in fighting the pandemic but he recognised, too, that the general public have been keeping communities going during this time. And this won’t change, he stressed, after the pandemic, as the NHS can only deal with the symptoms of many of today’s health problems, such as mental health, addictions and loneliness, by doing the repairs; it can’t deal with the causes.  

He believes that future health policy should focus on three key areas: health services and care – which Lord Crisp describes as the really important repairs and more that are done in our hospitals; prevention, which is all about the causes of ill health, such as preventing obesity and stopping disease; and health creation – providing the conditions for people to be healthy and helping them to be so.

The session also saw the announcement of the winning solution in the second challenge of Nursing Now’s Nightingale Challenge Global Solutions Initiative. The Challenge asked nurses and midwives to create innovative initiatives to empower communities to create and sustain health.

This session was chaired by Chris Liddle, from Covalent Group and HLM Architects, which, along with Llewelyn Davies, kindly sponsored the congress stream on Planetary Health.