Planning, designing and building for a healthy life

Health and wellbeing is at the forefront of everyone’s thinking and awareness, and has particularly been highlighted through the current worldwide pandemic. The impact on society will raise continual discussion and questions about how in the future we should be planning new communities. The opportunity for everyone to live a life within a community that supports both health and wellbeing, should be enshrined through development policies and guidance, and not just left to the end of the planning or development process. Only then will the development community learn and understand how benefits can be achieved through good planning and design.

The RTPI’s Nathaniel Lichfield Lecture this year focussed on “Health and Placemaking” and Professor Georgia Watson from Oxford Brookes University presented to a captive audience. The presentation highlighted the challenges of physical health, social isolation, pollution, mental wellbeing, and a lack of exercise. At masterplan level, there was an emphasis on introducing strategic landscape green links and corridors, connecting places. The concept of a 15 minute city was promoted as an opportunity that seeks to provides services, facilities and open space all within a 15 minute walk from your home. Something to aspire to.

The presentation highlighted the work that had been undertaken by the Healthy New Towns movement and which had looked at the negative impact of compact high density developments, the need for active travel by walking and cycling, encouragement of health food, play and leisure. It also promoted healthy homes and buildings, and how masterplans should be dementia friendly.

Case studies included Whitehall and Borden Masterplan and Ebbsfleet Garden City, creating way-finding around places and connecting elderly people within communities as a focus. Bicester was used as another case study, promoting good quality layouts and housing designs, that will be used as an exemplar for other developments across the Oxford and Cambridge Arc going forward. The recent review of the design toolkit “Building for a Healthy Life” was also highlighted as guiding good practice in developments. A link to this guidance document is below.

Professor Watson concluding remarks can be summarised as a need to:

  • Review the compact city models & densities.
  • Promote green landscape/blue ecological corridors.
  • Reduce car dominated movement – low traffic neighbourhoods.
  • Turn roads into streets with wide pavements and with cycle tracks.
  • Promote connected walkable & cyclable neighbourhoods.
  • Review the role of open spaces and local parks.
  • Promote the concept of 15 minutes’ cities.
  • Heathy housing designs – densities, internal standards, age-friendly and climatic responsive designs.

There is always a balance as to the various interests that need to be considered through planning of development, but the consideration of health and wellbeing should be an integral part of any scheme at whatever scale.

The following is a link to the RTPIs latest press releases on Health and Well-being:

This other following web link will take you to the Urban Design Groups page that includes a download version of their “Building for a Healthy Life”.