Work in and for a Healthy City

The image of Zoom meetings with work colleagues captures the extraordinary experience of work during the Covid-19 pandemic: a massive, forced and sudden move to homeworking in several sectors of activity from banks to education. It is early to say how transformative this experience will be for post-pandemic urban life. But there is little doubt that work has been tremendously affected by the crisis bringing about short- and long-term impacts at individual and urban levels.

The sphere of work—both in what concerns our working life and more broadly our economy and productive activities—has not only been affected by this health crisis; it plays a major role in securing a healthier urban future. In this commentary, I argue that work should be a fundamental area of concern for urban design researchers and practitioners in the pursuit of a Healthy City, as we move through and out of the crisis. Current approaches to health city planning and design call for holistic perspectives that consider personal, social and economic health determinants influenced by the built environment. While work is not particularly well elaborated in existing literature on healthy cities, the way in which the built environment accommodates (inclusive and diverse) urban economies and (the variety of) work patterns matters for health.

I advance three dimensions of work that are relevant for (designing) a healthier built environment: Urban Economies, Place(s) of Work and Work/Economy in Place. Urban Design—through elements such as urban form and street networks, building types, mix of uses, or open spaces—plays a key role in ensuring that urban space accommodates work and economic activities in healthy ways across these dimensions. However, work is surprisingly overlooked in Urban Design. How much do we know about the spatial requirements of different economic activities or the implications of remote work for urban space? This crisis offers an opportunity for the field to further engage with this forgotten dimension and set out a more ambitious research and practice agenda for building Healthy Cities.