UK-based Design Council's report explores links between public space and health

Healthy lifestyles aren't just determined by what we do — where we do it can also play a key role. A recent report by the Design Council of the United Kingdom and Social Change UK, "Healthy Placemaking," explores the potential impact of urban design on human health.

The premise of the report centers around this key question posed by the report's lead authors, Kelly Hunstone, Ammar Mesari, and Eloise Pinchera: "The evidence on the positive impact of healthy placemaking on people's health is clear, so how can we create places that deliver healthier lives and help prevent avoidable disease?"

There is no one agreed-upon definition of healthy placemaking. The U.S.-based Project for Public Spaces defines placemaking as "a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value." Meanwhile, Public Health England, an agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom, defines the practice as one "that takes into consideration neighborhood design (such as increasing walking and cycling), improved quality of housing, access to healthier food, conservation of, and access to natural and sustainable environments, and improved transport and connectivity."

The Design Council's report surveyed more than 600 architects, urban planners, and other environmental design professionals, with varying levels of seniority, to learn more about their own understanding of healthy placemaking and cross-sector collaboration in the development of healthier indoor and outdoor environments. Practitioners say healthy placemaking developments aren't often built into timelines or project priority lists. Budget restrictions and the expectations of developers and politicians can also create barriers. "Practitioners want to see greater collaboration between planning departments, highway authorities and public health departments to ensure that policies and practice put healthy placemaking at the forefront of all placemaking projects," the report's authors state. They also state that measuring the long-term impact of healthy placemaking initiatives can be difficult.

"You tell people the general idea of what you want to do, and give a skeleton outline of the scheme overview," says a London-based design adviser quoted in the report. "But to do these things, let's do it together. We can design it, but it's much stronger if you want people to own the space, it's why in the work we do making and creating spaces is everyone's responsibility. It’s the community's place, streets and public spaces [and] we all pay for it and all own it."

Although greenspace and other incentives for outdoor activity are key components of healthy placemaking, the report's authors say promoting community engagement and "creating places that could support job creation or job security, or boost employment rates" also play key roles, as do healthy indoor spaces in general, and places developed with public consultation. "Even though people spend a lot of their time indoors, at home, during work and in their leisure time, practitioners were more likely to focus on health in outdoor environments and access to greenspaces than ensuring people are living healthily indoors," the authors of the Design Council report write.

The report calls for more research to further the understanding of the impact of the built environment on community health and develop planning and design practices that are more supportive of healthy placemaking. To read the full report, click here.

Header image is a screenshot from the Design Council report

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