Basics and Key Themes


Health is influenced by urban life in a multitude of ways. The positive effects include specific benefits such as educational opportunities, accessible jobs, possibly short distances which can also be “actively” travelled. Life in the city poses health risks, e.g. a faster spread of infectious diseases by people living more closely together; noise exposure as well as pollution of air, soil and water all of which may socially be distributed unevenly; or social stress situations.

Traditionally it is a key concern of urban planning to strengthen positive influences and reduce risks to health. The connection between urban construction and health was intensively discussed in the context of planning, architecture, hygiene and medicine until the 1950s in Germany. In the last few years the planning sector and the health sector have started returning to the common roots in this field.

The explicit objective of the research program “City of the Future”, which is supported by the Fritz and Hildegard Berg-Foundation since 2011, is fostering the development of healthy, sustainable cities. On this website you find selected contents about the topic “Urban Health” and also information about the research program.


Key themes

The following aspects of urban development are particularly important from a health perspective, and in the focus of current discussions:

  • Urbanization and socio-demographic change:

    Modifications in the age structure, dwindling populations, emigration from rural areas and also immigration in urban areas.

  • Social structures in the city and environmental justice:

    Wants and risks of vulnerable groups within the population; segregation and displacement (gentrification), socially just distribution of environment resources (green spaces, waters) and stresses from the physical environment such as transport- or industry-related pollution of air, water and soil, or noise

  • Climate change, climate protection and adaptation:

    Temperature rise, extreme weather events, impact on urban ecosystems and biodiversity in the city

In the past, Urban Health research examined primarily the impact of specific determinants in urban areas. Given the large number of determinants and the variety of health effects in urban areas it is necessary to understand the complexities of the interaction of all these causal factors. Therefore an involvement of various disciplines and sectors with their associated bodies of knowledge and approaches is required.

In this context, “bridging the gap” between science and practice deserves special attention. The Federal Environment Agency (UBA), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and special institutions in the federal states all play important roles. Different types of policy advice include reporting routines, impact assessments, modelling projects and expertises.