Kick-off workshop of the international working group Urban Planning for Health Equity
The kick-off workshop of the international working group (IAK) Urban Planning for Health Equity, hosted by Heike Köckler, the chair of the working group, took place in the Hochschule für Gesundheit in the City of Bochum, from 19 to 20 September. In her welcome speech, the president of the Academy for Territorial Development in the Leibniz Association (ARL), Professor Sabine Baumgart, introduced the working methods of the ARL and presented previous activities of the Academy in the field of planning and health (e.g. the working group on health promoting city regions (Planung für gesundheitsfördernde Stadtregionen) from 2013 to 2016). Britta Bockhorn, who had joined the IAK on behalf of Martin Sondermann, the working group coordinator at the ARL Headquarters, outlined the internationalisation strategy of the ARL and described how the working group’s impact could benefit from the Academy’s knowledge and from its technical resources.
In view of the working group’s name, ‘Urban Planning for Health Equity’, the meaning of health equity was the starting point for discussion. In principle, the members of the working group agreed upon the definition of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that focuses on the “avoidable” part of inequalities as inherent feature of “inequities”. However, what is avoidable from a planning’s perspective? To what extent can notions like the “resilient city” provide equitable solutions? As it turned out, these questions need to be addressed in relation to current crises and country-specific functioning modes of planning systems (and other interfering / supportive systems?). Crises the working group identified as challenges for urban planning committed to health equity arise from the unequal impacts of energy costs/shortage, climate change and climate adaption, war(s) and pandemic(s) as well as rising (housing) prices and socio-spatial inequalities. To grasp the opportunities and constraints of urban planning when facing these crises, the working group determined aspects involved in producing or mitigating inequities. These are, among others, biodiversity, vulnerability, resilience, diversity, and environmental justice. As a first step, the working group intends to define these aspects as key terms for a glossary. Based on this step, the plan is to develop different and innovative publication formats to reach various stakeholders, e.g. practitioners, policy-makers and researchers. For instance, the working group plans to publish a commentary in the journal “Cities and Health” which provides different stakeholder groups with information on latest international research and practice for urban health and health equity as well as a position paper addressing policy-makers across Europe. Moreover, the aim is to produce video clips other visual representations of avoidable health inequities. The working group will proactively approach networks of relevant stakeholders, e.g. the WHO Healthy Cities Network and Eurocities and plans to attend their conferences. Finally, the aim is to influence the agenda setting of European and national research funding policies.
The workshop was enriched by a field trip to Bochum-Wattenscheid, a formerly independent municipality that had undergone enormous structural change. The central area and adjacent residential neighbourhoods in the northern and eastern part of Wattenscheid are included in the urban regeneration programme „Soziale Stadt – WAT bewegen“ (https://www.wat-bewegen.de/). The neighbourhood office is co-run by a traditional association dedicated to workers‘ welfare (Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO)) and a private planning consultancy (Planungsgruppe Stadtbüro), in order to combine the expertise from both social work and spatial planning in neighbourhood projects. Victoria Wildförster, the responsible social worker, and her colleague Luisa Stevens from the field of spatial planning, took the group on a tour through the neighbourhood. They highlighted the history, characteristics and developments of key places, e.g. the Friedenspark with its roots as a memorial, its renewal from a desolate place to a widely used park with a play- and sports ground and the memorial as a controversial place in the face of right-wing manifestations.
Moreover, the working group learned about the different faces of Wattenscheid: the villaquarter close to the Stadtgarten, traces of the industrial past embedded in the present, as to be witnessed at the market place, or the August-Bebel-Platz whose transformation from a high traffic area to a sustainable and liveable place is anything but easy.
In addition, the working group got to know how temporary installations such as a climbing scaffold for children in the central pedestrian area and permanent installations like the co-created playground in the Stadtgarten may have a positive impact on residents’ quality of life.
The working group members cordially thank Victoria Wildförster and Luisa Stevens for inviting us to their neighbourhood office and showing us the multi-faceted Wattenscheid.