Redefining Urban Prosperity: A 'Getting WISER' Approach for Just and Sustainable Urban Development



sustainable development, well-being, blue and green infrastructure, inclusive urban development, community knowledge integration




The existing emphasis on economic growth, measured predominantly through Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as a means to achieve societal well-being, has been broadly deemed problematic. GDP is associated with increasing environmental and social costs asymmetrically distributed among the population and social groups. Economic growth alone is insufficient to guarantee sustainable and inclusive well-being (Rojas, 2019).

The central thesis of our approach argues that increased GDP rarely translate into improved well-being. In this presentation, we introduce the 'Getting WISER' – a development framework to identify the best options for building a high-well-being society that integrates productivity growth with social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Our work aligns with the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and The New Urban Agenda (NUA), emphasising the importance of sustainable urban development and management in enhancing the quality of life (UN-Habitat, 2017). A central aspect of our approach is the emphasis on people-centred policies and interventions that value participation, environmental justice, social fairness, and equity. This approach demands integrating context-embedded community knowledge alongside technical or scientific expertise. The co-production and presentation of knowledge on environmental justice and well-being are critical in ensuring that sustainable development efforts are inclusive, leaving no person or place behind. Our objectives are twofold: firstly, to assess how different disadvantaged groups perceive and are impacted by the qualities of the built and natural environment, and secondly, to analyse how these environmental conditions can enhance people's subjective well-being and health, with a focus on urban blue and green spaces.

We will conduct in-depth case studies in the Netherlands and East and West Africa to operationalise the framework. Methods include digital participatory mapping, go-along interviews, and surveys, aiming to understand and quantify the impact of the built and natural environment on subjective well-being (IWG, 2013) and livelihoods (DfID, 1999; Bohle 2009). The study prioritises the voices of residents in deprived neighbourhoods, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, women, migrants, and refugees. Our research contributes to the discourse on sustainable well-being by highlighting the need for holistic and inclusive urban development policies. By prioritising the experiences and needs of disadvantaged groups and integrating community knowledge with scientific research, we aim to guide policymakers toward more equitable and sustainable urban development strategies, ensuring a high-wellbeing society with tangible improvements in the quality of life for all.


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Department for International Development UK (DfID), 1999. Sustainable livelihood guidance sheets. London: DFID.

International Wellbeing Group (IWG), 2013. Personal wellbeing index: 5th edition. Melbourne: Australian Centre on Quality of Life, Deakin University.

Rojas, M., ed., 2019. The Economics of Happiness. Cham: Springer.

UN-Habitat, 2017. Implementing the new urban agenda by strengthening urban-rural linkages: leave no one and no space behind. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations Human Settlements Programme.