URBAN EMPATHY: A new operating system for making cities from the “inside-out”

Download the full URBAN EMPATHY manifesto pdf document

“As the UK emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic it would be a tragic mistake to attempt to re-establish the status quo that existed before”

Build Back Fairer: The COVID-19 Marmot Review.

The Pandemic, Socioeconomic and Health Inequalities in England December 2020

There is no doubt that places have a significant impact on our happiness, wellbeing and health. Yet when it comes to the making the built worlds that are our habitats, the most crucial of questions - how a place will affect the people that spend time there, and what will be the impact on their lives – these really fundamental questions are actually rarely, if ever, asked.

What could our cities, neighbourhoods, homes, workplaces and community spaces be like if they were created based on people’s emotional, psychological and social needs? Could we shift to a new way of thinking about our surroundings, based on really understanding how they affect our innermost human workings?

In this moment of disruption, can we grasp the opportunity to change how we do things? To question the structures that shape society? Because our current operating systems is outdated: Health, wellbeing and quality of life are not “nice to haves”, tick-boxed, shoe-horned or half-baked into developments because they are the latest buzz words in the face of a global pandemic. Surely people’s happiness should be built into the very foundations of action. From the very first principles.

We have a chance to not only look at using urban space differently but actually to reimagine the very basis of how we think about making places. In the aftershocks of this pandemic’s ever shifting “new normals”, let’s make sure we create space for new and better patterns of life to emerge. And not just revert right back to simply making more stuff.

“There is an urgent need to do things differently...."

Build Back Fairer: The COVID-19 Marmot Review.

The Pandemic, Socioeconomic and Health Inequalities in England December 2020

Download the full URBAN EMPATHY manifesto pdf document



URBAN EMPATHY is a call to action for urgent change; to address health and wellbeing in depth through new human-centred, science-informed and socially-conscious approaches, in order to tackle the pressing issues of today.

The manifesto builds on the discussions of the Conscious Cities London 2020 festival where, as co-chair, we brought together leading multidisciplinary experts covering topics including neuroscience, social value, healthy urbanism and more. The videos from the 3 days are all available online here.

Please do get in touch or join us across our social media platforms to carry on the conversation.



The URBAN EMPATHY concept is part an ongoing thread of research and development,

starting with Intimate Infrastructure - a proposal based on human-scale development that won an international competition for ideas to solve the housing crisis in 2015. More recent journal articles and frameworks includes Compassionate Places – published by international think-tank, the Centre for Conscious Design in 2019




Build Back Fairer: The COVID-19 Marmot Review, December 2020

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Jessica Allen, Peter Goldblatt, Eleanor Herd, Joana Morrison, Institute of Health Equity, 2020

Homes, health and COVID-19. How poor-quality homes have contributed to the pandemic. Centre for Better Ageing, 2020

Building Better Systems - A Green Paper on System Innovation,

Charlie Leadbeater and Jennie Winhall, 2020.

How Neuroscience could shape a more Empathetic Built Environment,

Pam Alexander OBE, Connected Places Catapult, 2020

The London Recipe: How Systems and Empathy Make the City,

Charles Leadbeater, Centre for London 2014

Systemic design: examples of evolving and current practice,

Cat Drew, Design Council 2019

From Design Thinking to Systems Change. How to invest in innovation for social impact, Rowan Conway, Jeff Masters and Jake Thorold. RSA, 2017

Quality of Life Foundation framework and research, 2020