Improving ‘Quality of Life’ In the Built Environment

Saeed Hashmi, Director, Consulting, MENA

April 09, 2020

At the time of writing, we live in a surreal world whereby COVID-19 has brought health and wellbeing to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Quality of life seems more important now than ever.

Although the headlines around the pandemic are largely negative, we have also seen several positive factors emerge.

First, global pollution has reduced dramatically around town and cities as traffic and production has been cut significantly. Society also seems closer and has championed a collective response whereby we look out for each other once again.

Understanding quality of life

The term “quality of life” is widely used throughout the world and takes into account several factors. Its usage has grown over the past decade, particularly within the MENA region. It is subjective and multidimensional, and guided by values, goals and socio-cultural context in which an individual lives.

Given that it is a non-monetary topic it is often considered hard to measure.

In recent years, many governments, such as, Saudi Arabia have introduced government initiatives specifically tasked with improving the Quality of Life within its cities.

So, what aspects should be considered?

At both a city and masterplan level, there are a number of common factors; infrastructure and transport, urban design, economic and education opportunities, security and socio environment, sports, heritage and culture, entertainment and recreation.

However, are all these factors as important as each other?

Can a city or masterplan exist without the basics such as sewage and roads? Of course not. What’s more important culture or recreation? Would an individual prefer a school in proximity or a hospital? As you may have noticed different categories should carry different weightings.

Additionally, any factor or category can have a differing impact upon an individual, depending on their lifestyle and needs. The impact could therefore be direct, indirect or induced.

For example, if a family has children of a schooling age then proximity to nurseries and schools may be more important than provision of a cycle track located close by. If a resident who is a keen tennis player normally travels 30 minutes to reach a court and then if one is built within his community, this had an induced impact upon them.

The inclusion of numerous ‘hard facilities’ is very important for improving the quality of life for a community. However, we can go one step further. It is all very well building a community hall but to ensure that society is brought together effectively, these spaces need to be activated in an organised and structured manner.

Inclusion means that all ages and types of people are considered and that certainly includes the elderly and disabled. Examples include jobseeker programs, community gardening programs, meals on wheels and study programs – and many involve volunteers from the community or not-for-profit organisations.  

Once all the factors have been decided upon, the next step is to make these both measurable and quantifiable. That’s the hard part. By applying weighting and scoring to each category and sub-category, it’s possible to create a tool that can be utilized by any public or private developer to assess their urban landscape.

By developing a scoring system within this tool, they can compare development to development and pinpoint where investment is needed.  

Ultimately, councils and developers have a finite budget, and therefore by utilising the tool correctly, they can judge where their budget is best spent in order to maximise the increase in the quality of life within their project.

So perhaps quality of life is more measurable than we first thought.