The majority of Europe’s population lives in cities which have either developed along major rivers, been founded on the banks of inland lakes, or grown on the continent’s extensive coastline.
These ‘blue’ environments have played a major role in both the historical and modern evolution of our urban areas. They have been used for supplying drinking water, transportation, industry, fisheries, energy generation and sewage treatment.
Recently, a growing body of evidence has suggested that this utilitarian network of urban ‘blue infrastructure’ might also be able to provide a number of health and wellbeing benefits.
Research has shown these environments might allow us to tackle major public health challenges such as obesity, physical inactivity and mental health disorders, and that these benefits may be most important for vulnerable populations.
However, so far there has been no concerted attempt to characterise and quantify these effects.
To address this, BlueHealth has brought together experts from across Europe to systematically explore the impact urban waterways can have on health and wellbeing. Through a number of surveys, reviews, experiments and interventions, it is investigating whether the careful design and implementation of urban blue infrastructures can deliver benefits to public health and prevent disease.
Genuine two-way communication lies at the very heart of BlueHealth, which is working with representatives from public and patient groups, health care providers, planners, engineers, policy makers and the commercial sectors to ensure its methods are driven by real-world challenges.
With much of Europe’s vast network of waterways spanning national boundaries, a key part of the programme’s focus is also ensuring its findings will be used to inform government policies, particularly as both climates and environments change across the EU.
By the project’s culmination in 2020, the team are hoping to be able to make direct recommendations on how both existing and new blue infrastructures can be designed to promote good health and wellbeing across Europe’s cities.