Active Urban Design

[Photo Credit: 100architects]

Public spaces like parks, playgrounds and waterfronts have become valuable assets for cities all around the world. Innovative and well-designed outdoor spaces can encourage activity and human connection amongst all demographics and therefore it is important for cities to be creative and make the most of these precious spaces. In this article, we will discuss the value and incentives of creating outdoor active spaces in the city and how do we optimise their usage and through adopting cutting-edge technologies.

For more detailed insights, check out the video below on the conversation that Javier González and Peter Just had with AST’s Founding Partner Loron Orris and Jean-Baptiste Roy at the APAC Health, Fitness & Wellness Summit 2021.


Why do we need active outdoor spaces?

Physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. However,  with the increase in urbanization and digital consumption, sedentary lifestyles have become more prevalent in big cities resulting in a decline in physical activity and time spent outdoors. This issue has further worsened under the pandemic, leading to a significant public health challenge.

Studies have also found that people in North America and Europe spend up to 90% of their lifetime indoors! Moreover, according to research done by The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, when compared to rural areas, cities are creating more loneliness, isolation and stress and are also associated with higher rates of mental health problems including a 40% higher risk of depression, a 20% risk of more anxiety, and double the risk of schizophrenia.

According to WHO, over 1.4 billion of the world’s adult population don’t exercise enough, and youth these days spend 60% of their time sitting down! Physical inactivity kills up to 5 million people per year, costing the global economy US$54 billion and US$14 billion in direct health care and productivity losses respectively. (Learn more about the impact of youth inactivity in China in our previous article

Thus, creating urban spaces that promote physical activity and wellbeing in an innovative way is critical to help enhance physical health and mental wellbeing and build stronger communities. This also contributes towards a city’s sustainability and competitiveness.

The power of innovative urban spaces

The way that spaces are designed plays an important role in promoting a healthy environment that promotes play, sports and important multi-generational social interaction in communities.

Outdoor public spaces need to become more inclusive, innovative and inviting.  Strategies in urban planning, particularly for sports and recreation infrastructure need to ensure the multifunctionality and variable use of spaces that adapt to the needs of different demographics. The ideal public space should combine creative design and imaginative use of the space. Think of it as a playground for all, no matter if you are a child, youth, adult, senior or physically challenged so that all can enjoy your time in the space.

When designing the space, it is recommended to take a people-oriented approach. It should serve the purpose of enhancing the user’s health and wellbeing and most importantly connect individuals through the space. A study by RMIT University indicated that social integration is often associated with higher levels of subjective wellbeing and the perfect social enabler would be to access a space to play social sports that emphasize social interaction instead of competition. The most important thing in creating an active vibrant space is to center it around people where everyone can find reasons to interact in their everyday life.

[Photo: Hubbster, A Social Sports Club in a Box with on-demand games and activities that promote social play for all.]

Opportunities for sports or all kinds of physical activity should be readily available in the area, from running paths and cycling paths, to basketball courts and football pitches and more. Besides traditional sports, urban sports such as skateboarding, BMX biking  and parkour are also emerging. But sports should not be limited to that, when talking about exercising, people often associate it with high performance training or competitive sports, but it could be any form of physical activities or as casual as taking a walk. Therefore, every corner in the city can be your playground.

“Active spaces have the power to draw the attention of people and encourage them to leave their homes and gather in a physical space rather than in a digital space. We’re living in a world where digital technology is progressing at such a rapid speed and we are losing a bit of real physical social interaction. For us, active space would be a platform where real social interactions take place.” 

Javier González, Partner/Managing Director of 100architects

One drawback of urban life is the disappearance of human interaction within communities. Thus, the design of public spaces should be an expression of the values of integration, inclusion, and social function of physical recreation and sport.

Creating spaces for optimal engagement

Active Urban Space Design

Sports and recreational facilities must be well-designed along with other public spaces within the city. Fundamental elements of the space are that it must be social, multi-functional and non-competitive, making it fun and captivating to change the general perception that exercising equals doing high performance sports.

The key is to offer solutions that use data to enhance utilization rate and putting health as a priority that everyone can incorporate physical activity in their daily routine, helping people to go from zero to one, from sitting or lying down all day to moving a bit more every day. 

Outdoorisation along with improving the quality and equipment of urban public spaces are essential to encourage physical activity and none of the demographics should feel left out or discouraged because of their fitness level. We are already seeing the trend that the line between public spaces and private facilities are blurring and to accommodate this trend we recommend:   

For governments: 

  • Prioritize creating inclusive active spaces as a part of a city’s urban development plans and work with different public and private parties to better optimize the use of public spaces. 

For real estate developers:

  • Consider health and wellness at the forefront of their business and investment strategies, increasing the attractiveness of both residential and commercial projects to meet the needs of today’s more health conscious consumers.

For urban planners and designers:

  • Balance aesthetics, inclusivity and functionality when creating spaces that meet the users’ needs and inspire them to move and interact. Be innovative and merge technology in the designs.

For gym and fitness club owners: 

  • Create immersive experiences with technologies and engage everyone, also to develop outdoorization strategies, linking to the customers who want to be outside as this is becoming a major trend.

Enhancing the experience with technology 

Introducing the use of new technologies will bring the city closer to its people, it can help enhance existing public space, foster creativity, interaction and citizens’ participation. What technology can deliver is personalization, the ability to track and monitor the usage of spaces and build community. 

 The future of active urban design will be tech-driven in a way that allows us to experience public spaces in a digitized and immersive way. Cutting-edge technologies can identify what is working in these spaces and ensure that the use of these spaces are optimized, providing fresh insights for urban planners and the government to design more engaging and livable cities. 

“Data allows us to predict social opportunities. About the usage, who is playing with whom, when are they playing in different parts of the city. It also gives city planners the real time data of how the public space is used to have a better understanding of how to develop the city.” 

Peter Just, Founder of Hubbster

With the Metaverse era approaching, cities and businesses will need to be even more creative and rethink the future of sports and fitness and adapt with new behaviors to make people’s lives even more connected.


People are realizing the value of spending time outdoors. Our future cities should inspire people to make healthy choices, foster empathy and democratize happiness when they move around. Urban design is a multidisciplinary endeavor. It requires different parties including the government, urban planners, real estate developers and other entities spanning the architecture, sustainability, technology, sports and fitness industries to collaborate to bring together inclusive, innovative and inviting ways to promote health and wellness in the city through new innovative and stimulating spaces.

Contact us to learn more about how to incorporate health and wellness elements in urban design and real estate projects by connecting with us here. Connect

Also check out AST’s discussion on APAC Sports & Sports Tech Investment 2021 Here.



Celebrities and Athletes go All-in on Tech

June 13, 2024

IPL and India: Playground Full of Investment Opportunities

April 11, 2024

PACIFA DECISION’s Transformative Journey into Asia-Pacific with AST

January 18, 2024

Top Opportunities for Sports Business in 2024

January 16, 2024