Connected Cities, Health, landscape architecture, Livability, public space

Kunshan Civic Plaza, China. Copyright AECOM, photo by Dixi Carrillo.

Alastair Leighton, an associate director of AECOM’s Design + Planning practice in Fortitude Valley, Australia, points out that “We break urban complexity down into manageable component parts, with transport networks managed by transport specialists as just one example, but we sometimes forget to reintegrate these layers and assess the effects of changes upon the urban environment as a whole, and upon ourselves as end users.”

Some of the effects of this are deeply psychological and difficult to assess. Others are not. For instance, obesity is now the killer of 65% of American men. Among other factors, urban environments have a domineering influence on behaviors that will either promote physical and mental health or erode it.

While much of our cities is structural and electronic, we must remember that the city-dwellers are the most significant layer of the city – the layer that shapes the city, either deliberately or by accident, the layer that is in turn shaped by the city, and the reason that the city exists in the first place. While mechanical systems are truly complex, organic systems are additionally fluid and respond to qualitative factors. Alastair thinks we can achieve much by looking at the city organically, and shaping environments and behaviors for the health of people.

Read his article in the Guardian here, and view an infographic he created. Contact him at


Jake_89x100Jake Herson ( is managing editor of the Connected Cities blog.

Originally published Jan 8, 2014

Author: Jacob Herson