Urbanism: A Catalyst for Wellbeing

In what some have defined as the Third Era of Health, we must radically rethink our approach to sustaining our healthcare system. This is particularly acute given that chronic and lifestyle related diseases are on the rise, and healthcare services are struggling to keep up with the consequent accelerating demand.

NHS Healthy New Towns, Blue Zones, the WELL Building Standard, and Fitwell are all reflections of an increased consciousness towards establishing long and fulfilled lifestyles through a preventative contributory approach that supports health. This supports the World Health Organisation definition of health as, ‘complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, not merely negatively as the absence of disease or infirmity’.

This transition from treatment to prevention, along with an increased awareness of our personal contribution to wellbeing, provides the public and private sectors with the opportunity to implement progressive and innovative ideas that will not only impact citizen wellbeing, but help evolve into healthy communities that live, work and play in very different places than we see today in many of our cities.

The focus of healthy communities will be ‘people’, since the ultimate objective must be to achieve a quality of life that healthy places bring, rather than simply the achievement of architectural quality. As a consequence, healthy people in healthy communities will be;

  • Active – in mind, body and spirt, encouraging physical and mental exercise – not just at a designated time or place but throughout our everyday routines
  • Sustained – through the air, food, water and light healthy bodies demand. Healthy people also need to be economically sustained through rewarding employment
  • Independent – to age in place and remain connected to our friends and family, and empowered to make decisions in the care we receive and the choice facing our communities.
  • Supported – through health and social care, education and training, multi-cultural spiritual support and financial services.

To support healthy people in healthy communities, we must consider and challenge the types of spaces that are created. These spaces should encourage more urban developments that are permeable and highly accessible. The should deliver true mixed use options that encourage and offer employment, whilst providing homes for intergenerational residents through mixed tenure offers. When coupled with high quality permeable public realm, this can help support the creation of a healthy character that is generous in supporting residents and importantly its neighbours.

Our test as designers, planners, landscape architects, systems designers and more is to challenge the status quo, communicating innovative ideas about how to create an ultrapractical, generous and open city that has the public interest at its heart.

Justin Harris

Justin is an Architect, Studio Principal, and has experience in a range of projects, the majority of which has focused on healthcare and specifically the primary and community care sector. With an interest in innovative healthcare systems, his strength lies in the design of complex multi stakeholder projects such as Bolton One, Gorton Community Hub, and Corby Health and Wellbeing Centre. Justin lives in Liverpool and continually battles with the creation of music in Abelton.

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