Collaboration between the public and private sectors will be critical in optimising opportunities to implement progressive, innovative ideas supportive of individual and community wellbeing.
Furthermore, the application of evidence-based design solutions responsive to locality and contextual issues, in concert with inter-professional cross-sector working, will be essential in addressing the challenges anticipated in achieving a specific focus on conscious wellbeing and the creation of healthy communities characterised by:
• Healthier and more flexible homes which support their occupants continuously through their lives
• Healthy environments that promote active living
• Connected neighbourhoods, strong communities and inclusive public spaces
• Healthy workplaces
• Flexible, physical and digital infrastructure
• Digitally-enabled smart towns
The creation of such communities will require the coordination of a wide range of skillsets, covering specialised residential, healthcare and educational facility design, as well as ‘place-making’ and the application of technology to deliver ‘intelligent’ services. This expertise and technology, and the underpinning research evidence, will have three principal focuses – People, Place and Wellbeing – but will involve the cross-application of ideas and evidence to help build a more holistic and inter-disciplinary approach to the creation of healthy places which support their communities.
The principal focus will be ‘People’, since the ultimate objective must be on the achievement of a quality of life that healthy places bring, rather than simply the achievement of architectural quality. This focus will cover all ages, from newborns to seniors, as well as the needs of specific demographics such as ethnic and economic groups.
‘Place’ is the scene of everyday life and a major determinant of our wellbeing. An integrated place-based approach will address a range of scales, typically structured around the citizen’s experience – ‘My Home’; ‘My Street’; ‘My Neighbourhood’.
The anatomy of a healthy place
In order to explore these relationships and communicate with a diverse audience, a graphic language capable of mapping the narrative of a ‘day in the life’ of various demographic segments, will prove very helpful. Such a communication tool, used in interacting with client and stakeholder groups, typically combines a transect across a hypothetical neighbourhood with overlays of imaginary journeys to show how places are experienced, revealing the impact of design, organisation and technology on health. In this way, the relationship between the physical, organisational and technological environment can be visualised, thereby enabling the exploration and identification of those approaches most appropriate for a specific community.
A healthy neighbourhood will be a place where a wide range of people and age groups have the opportunity and awareness to live healthier lifestyles.
A healthy neighbourhood will support social interaction, important in overcoming isolation and loneliness. Interaction can be encouraged by local connectivity, a mix of uses and activities and through a focus on those buildings which form the interface between public and private realms.
A healthy neighbourhood will be laid out to promote active lifestyles. Much more than just the inclusion of exercise areas in parks, a healthy neighbourhood will encourage everyday informal activity, especially walking and cycling. Active mobility for all age groups will also necessitate an increased emphasis on public transport as part of mixed-mode journeys, as well as on compact town planning that locates shops, services and open spaces within walking distance of homes.
A healthy neighbourhood will support independent living through the provision of local, accessible facilities, and assistive design and technologies in the home and in the public realm. As we age, the way neighbourhoods define our community and provide important and familiar stimuli can help safeguard mental stability. Helping people ‘age in place’ will ensure that the elderly are not dislocated from familiar surroundings and supportive social networks.
The NHS England Healthy New Towns initiative, for which the design and technology practice, IBI Group, has been appointed as a specialist advisor, sets out to rethink how we live, how healthcare services can be delivered and will take an ambitious look at improving health through the built environment. The initiative will represent a step change in how we consider and define healthy places and in multiple ways, bring together People, Place and Wellbeing.