Unhealthy Neighbourhood “Syndrome”: A Useful Label for Analysing and Providing Advice on Urban Design Decision-Making?

Husam Al Waer (Lead / Corresponding author), Joshua Speedie, Ian Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
104 Downloads (Pure)


Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was growing interest in designing healthier neighbourhoods. Adopting this perspective brings attention to how conditions in neighbourhoods (directly and indirectly) affect their inhabitants’ physical health and mental wellbeing. However, considerably less attention has been paid to how to alleviate such conditions through integrated interventions designed to operate specifically at the neighbourhood scale. To address this gap, this paper introduces the term “unhealthy neighbourhood syndrome” (UNS). The conceptual clarity and practical utility offered by using this term are critically examined. The paper contains a rigorous review and critical analysis of academic and grey literature on what are held to be the relationships between key features of the built environment and people’s health and wellbeing. It also examines literature offering advice on how urban designers should make neighbourhoods healthier. It illustrates the complexity of the range of issues involved and the complicated web of top down, bottom up and middling out actors that need to be involved in making decisions about them. Despite having inherent weaknesses, the term “unhealthy neighbourhood syndrome” is judged to be useful. It illustrates how seemingly separate issues operate in urban design, promoted for tackling specific symptoms of ill health, need to be addressed jointly through an integrated programme of parallel work streams operating at the neighbourhood scale. The paper is innovative in identifying the wide cluster of symptoms used to describe unhealthy neighbourhoods in the literature as being a “syndrome”. Its significance lies in its injunction that this syndrome needs to be tackled through integrated streams of remedial action drawing on experience and expertise that lie beyond those offered by the traditional membership of urban design teams. View Full-Text
Original languageEnglish
Article number6232
Number of pages30
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • unhealthy neighbourhood syndrome (UNS)
  • healthy built environments
  • neighbourhood
  • healthy neighbourhood
  • health and wellbeing
  • mitigating
  • symptoms
  • multi-disciplinary teamwork
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Healthy neighbourhood
  • Multi-disciplinary teamwork
  • Mitigating
  • Neighbourhood
  • Healthy built environments
  • Symptoms
  • Unhealthy neighbourhood syndrome (UNS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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