Salus journal

Healthy Planet. Healthy People.

Cities / Healthy Cities

Healthy City Design 2017

The green connection: design as a strategy towards a healthier city

By Ingrid Mulder 23 Oct 2017 0

Cities are facing a participatory shift. On the one hand, this is manifesting through a top-down approach, such as the promise of smart cities, the big society, and the corresponding decentralisation of the social domain. On the other hand, the desire of community groups to take greater control and responsibility for their own lives and neighbourhoods is a long-term trend.


This change has spurred demand for new forms of self-organising governance. As part of its transformed governance structure aiming to enhance active participation, the Municipality of Rotterdam has embraced the “Right to Challenge”. Initially, this has focused on topics related to citizen health and wellbeing, but it’s being extended to a multitude of domains where citizen activism takes place.

The proposed contribution elaborates on the self-management of public parks. In this context, various green initiatives have joined forces in a new initiative called ‘the green connection’, which aims to strengthen existing initiatives and demonstrate their societal impact. Interestingly, when mapping the various initiatives in the city, it shows a green ribbon around Delfshaven, a former local municipality in the city of Rotterdam, which is known for their active citizens and experimentation with democratic innovation.

Clearly, one of the first design goals is to turn the conceptual green connection into a beautiful 8km-long hiking trail in Rotterdam West, through connecting the parks and removing physical barriers. The overall ambition is somewhat bigger: healthy city design. The more people can participate in green initiatives, the healthier the neighbourhood becomes. Elaborating on the findings of the public health service in the greater Rotterdam-Rijnmond area – which state that green initiatives are of great significance for health and welfare institutions – collaboration is extended with institutions dealing with care and wellbeing.

The collaborative attitude, and a proper infrastructure that supports this social fabric, seem to be key for designing for social transformations. Main findings and lessons about the comprehensive participatory approach are reported. The role of design is also reflected on. 

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