Strategies for Building Healthy Cities

In PowerHouse Growers’ head office hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia, municipal elections are happening this week. That means there’s been lots of talk about the vision and future of our city.

Situated on an island rainforest, Nanaimo offers the perfect lifestyle for families and even young working professionals. In a place where you can ski, surf, and golf all in one (long) day, it’s no wonder those who live here love it here. It makes for a great marketing tool to bring in people from all over the world – including tech startups.

In recent years, Nanaimo has grown economically, and as a result, the city is now torn between small community feel and urban expansion. One thing that can be agreed upon however, is that Nanaimo has what it takes to be a world class sustainable, healthy city.

So what exactly does it take to build a healthy city? With so many models, techniques, and design systems out there, how do we strip it all down to the basics? Well, it starts with a vision and a definition of what “healthy” means to the particular city. Health isn’t necessarily limited to the physical wellbeing of the city. A healthy city is one that holistically solves challenges and improves the social, economic, and environmental states of the city today and into the future.


Nanaimo, British Columbia offers is a healthy city perfect for work-life balance. Image via

4 Pillars of Healthy Cities

PowerHouse Growers has outlined four factors to build healthy cities as well as some strategies being utilized throughout North America. Check them off for your own community.

1. Vision Based on Community Values

The vision of a city starts with solid leadership. An excellent leader thinks about the future of the city and everyone in it, as opposed to themselves and their legacy. Here are some fundamental questions to ask yourself about your city and its vision:

  • Do I want to raise my children here?
  • Do I want to be involved in my community?
  • Do I want to grow old here?
  • Do I want to do business here?
  • Do I feel like my city is evolving?

A city that accomplishes all of those items likely has buy-in from the community. A loyal and committed base of residents is the foundation of a sustainable, healthy city.

2. Community Involvement

A healthy city is one that empowers its residents to be engaged in the future of city, the decision-making process, by encouraging them to offer opinions, suggestions and advice about what they want. This open communication will generally lead to a community that operates as a collective.

Healthy cities bring together several local organizations from both the public and private sectors to help solve social issues such as housing, crime rates, education, and equality. By bringing together several different perspectives, the city can develop collaboratively using innovation and critical thinking.

This approach develops social solidarity among residents leading to a sense of responsibility for the success of the entire community.

3. Emphasis on Health & Wellbeing

Healthy cities address community wellbeing issues such as mental health, obesity, and other illnesses. Environmental factors such as air pollution, waste management, water quality, and construction and development standards are also a key focus for healthy cities. Modern, progressive healthy city models also include a food strategy so as to ensure the access to fresh, nutritious food for residents of all socio demographics.

4. Improving Quality of Life

Ultimately a healthy city should be a desirable place to live and work. The city should be focused on improving the quality of life for existing residents, while simultaneously positioning themselves for their unique qualities in order to bring in newcomers, new investment, and new perspective.

Access to green spaces, availability of public transit, mobility, access to knowledge and information, and a broad economic base are all aspects that make individuals feel positive about their city and an overall sense of belonging.


Vancouver is consistently ranked in the top healthy cities in the world. Image via Sustainable Cities Collective. Photo by Evan Leeson.

Strategies for Building Healthy Cities

Urban planning in today’s environment requires new thinking. The old way of doing things is simply not sustainable. This is why some of the top ranked healthy cities in the world such as Vancouver, BC can provide mentorship to other communities around the world.

Here are types of urban planning strategies that build sustainable, healthy cities.

1. Masterplans: 20-30 year development plans that include social, economic, and environmental growth strategies

2. Central Access to Information: user-friendly, organized, and informative central websites that communicate vision and opportunities to residents, businesses, and local groups.

3. Coordination of Community Involvement: Municipal employees perform community outreach to unite residents and empower them to provide personal input.

4. Success Benchmarks: a communication plan that informs residents of the city’s bottom line and what’s being done to continuously meet this.

5. Vision Statement: what does the future of the city look like and is it clearly communicated to residents?

6. Value Proposition: What’s the one thing that sets the city apart from others? What is the city known for?

7. Food Strategy: a robust strategy for food production including urban farms, farmers markets, rooftop gardens, and vertical farms will provide better food access to residents.

8. Environmental Policy: guidelines that support the protection of local biodiversity also need to be economically and socially sound so as to increase resident buy-in.

9. Green Building Standards: updating local building codes to include green standards on new commercial construction will lead to greater overall health and wellbeing of building occupants.

10. Mobility Plans: infrastructure like walking paths and trails, bike lanes, and public transit all improve mobility and increase the walkability of residents which encourages healthy lifestyles.

About The Author

PowerHouse Growers
PowerHouse Growers teaches you how to sustainably integrate urban agriculture into your cities, businesses, and homes. We provide clear solutions and benefits for better health, increased productivity, and lower environmental impact. By connecting you with experts, we bring awareness to solutions that may not be top of mind.