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In today’s globalised world, we are witnessing a spectacular migration of ideas, enterprises, and talents between cities worldwide. Indeed, there is a covert competition among city governments to design their urban settings in a way that dubs them as the preferred choice to live, work, and play in.

This ambition is partly fuelled by the need to lure local and foreign talents who can boost economic productivity and add creative flair, vibrancy, and ingenuity to cities with their unique contributions. Therein comes the need to conjure up a vision of a coveted life, in the form of attractive neighbourhoods, gorgeous public spaces, reliable public transportation, and quality services. Indeed, city livability is fast becoming a key tenet of policy agendas and a determinant of a city’s success.

In recent years, we have witnessed many governments’ sagacious policies on talent attraction and issuing flexible and long-term residency opportunities for foreign talents. In parallel, it is advantageous to take into consideration a multifaceted approach to city livability so that these cities can stand out on the global map and lure such coveted talents. Furthermore, urban policies must also maximise well-being for citizens and boost their pride for their cities.

Many renowned research centers and think tanks are exploring the intersection of urban design with city livability, such as the Global Liveability Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

A spectrum of themes can be elaborated to improve city livability by fusing well-being research, behavioural economics, and urban design to extract brilliant insights for city planning. Its highest ambition will be to create an urban setting that nurtures economic opportunities, creates a thriving talent market, and offers a great lifestyle for residents.

Access to essential services

Infrastructure is a critical engine that powers city’s mobility, provides adequate living arrangements, and ensures access to essential services, such as health care facilities and educational centers. Creative amenities are also becoming more and more important for cities to distinguish themselves.

Furthermore, urban planners must ensure that city plans deliver equal access of essential amenities to residents, despite diversity of locations. By adopting a well-rounded approach to urban design, city governments can boost livability and transform into flourishing centers for citizen and expat living.

On top of these foundational considerations, it is also becoming increasingly important to explore how urban design can affect the physical and mental well-being of city residents. Sprawling urban green spaces can deliver significant benefits in this area.

An abundance of research reveals them to include lower mortality rates, lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol levels, improved physical fitness levels, improved cognitive and immune function, and reduced rates of strokes, asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. On the other hand, those who basked in green spaces also witnessed improvements in relaxation, stress alleviation, higher physical activity, elevated creativity, and enhanced social connectivity.

In the same vein, it is critical that city governments address other complexities and links that impact the health conditions of city residents. Air pollution is accredited with causing many adverse health consequences, such as respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and lung cancer.

City governments could counteract this challenge by expanding green spaces, increasing walkable or cycling zones, and shifting towards more sustainable public transport options to reduce dependency on private vehicle use.

Many cities are also competing on their ingenuity in conceptualising housing developments that are affordable, practical, spacious, safe, aesthetically pleasing, and of excellent quality. Connectivity to local services and amenities is also a pivotal aspect of urban design so that residents can be not too far away from schools and universities, childcare centers, retail outlets, parks, health care facilities, and cultural spaces.

Mindfully designed housing projects

To illustrate, the Housing and Development Board in Singapore has mindfully designed housing projects for various target audiences, such as couples, families, singles, and the elderly segments. For families, residential areas are deliberately designed close to schools, clinics, shopping districts, and parks for the convenience of parents with children.

On the other hand, the elderly population live in housing projects that are designed for safety, have wheelchair access, are surrounded by lush landscaping, have public exercise areas, and are close to neighbourhood centers that foster local community connection.

Another elemental urban design factor revolves around conceptualising spaces that solidify social connections and community cohesion. Urban experts dub this concept as placemaking, which explores the various public venues that can bring together diverse communities and nurture distinctive connections with them.

We can take inspiration from a multitude of interconnected and vivacious cities that have successfully designed public spaces that enable people to foster relationships among their local communities, elevate creative expression of local artists and creatives, create memorable stories, and boost well-being.

An excellent menu of public spaces could deliver upon these aspirations, such as art galleries, public libraries, museums, cultural centers, opera houses, plazas, residential parks, shopping districts, and sporting venues. Many cities have also paid special emphasis on heritage areas, issuing regulations and preservation schemes to protect them from losing their historical identities by limiting new development projects.

Indeed, the realm of urban design is gaining traction worldwide as cities seek to reinvent themselves and become the top choices for unique talents to find a place to flourish in.

Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and literature