Planning for Active Living
: Aligning Policy, Product, Practice and Processes

  • Owen Hawe

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


As aspects of health and wellbeing are being slowly ‘re-knitted’ together within planning policy and practice, there is a need to consider how the built environment can promote ‘active living’, an articulation of health and wellbeing meaning a way of life that integrates physical activity into daily routines. The rhetoric for better – and smarter – partnership working, which spans professional boundaries, to nurture the creation of healthier urban environments requires greater collaboration between planning and other built environment professionals. The complexity surrounding multi-actor governance approaches represent opportunities and challenges for creating meaningful interaction between professionals for shaping active living environments. With the amount of professions working together in the development process, it is recognised that differing perspectives may be present which could impact in the promotion of active living.
This doctoral research adopts social constructionism to frame the investigation of how planning policy, development practices and professional cultures influence the delivery of ‘active living’ environments. The empirical contributions, combining semi-structured interviews and observational research, are drawn from case studies within Northern Ireland. In examining the relationship between policy discourse, planning practices and inter-professional collaborations, this research reveals different professional attitudes, experiences and perspectives of those working within the development process for achieving the creation of active living environments. There is evidence of how the existence of professional cultures influence the understanding of and approach to the delivery of active living, planning policy and collaboration. Whilst cross-sectoral understanding may be improving, built environment practice remains to be orientated around economic growth which impacts on the emphasis placed on the health agenda. The policy critique demonstrated that rhetorically health is well represented yet has failed to have the intended impetus in practice. Assessing the built environment with regards to active living, using a bespoke active living checklist, identified contrasting built environments which resembled active living environments and suburban sprawl. Furthermore, initiatives that have recently been developed demonstrated that although to some extent supported active living, they were marred by political pressures, powerful lobbies and conventional practices. The findings indicate that while extensive collaboration amongst professionals exists, this has not translated into meaningful active living outcomes for promoting healthier urban environments. The study concludes that tensions remain for aligning professions, policy, processes and projects for delivering healthy active living environments, and propose recommendations for operationalising the delivery of active living that contributes towards improved health and wellbeing.
Date of AwardJun 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGavan Rafferty (Supervisor) & Linda Mc Elduff (Supervisor)


  • Public health
  • Obesity
  • Collaboration
  • Professional culture
  • Social constructionism
  • Urban governance

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