The Anatomy of the Health Precinct

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Monday, September 21st, 2015
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Kale smoothies in mason jars. Yoga pants over Levi jeans. Fitbit this and Jawbone that. With the wearable tech market off the charts, I thought it might be time to elevate the health precinct conversation, the ideal pairing to your fitness band!

The health precinct is emerging. Urban renewal and neighborhood development projects now put health at the centre, in design, experience and lifestyle. Taking a global scan, we can compare some of the principles, factors and variables for planning, designing and building the health precinct.

AUSTRALIA

The land down under boasts some impressive statistics. With 20 to 29.9 per cent of all adults considered to be obese, Australia joins the list of global heavyweights trying to move the needle on shaping its cities to be more health conscious.

There are two initiatives in particular I like from Australia, the first from a non-profit collaboration and the other from the New South Wales (NSW) State Government.

Healthy Spaces and Places

Healthy Places and Spaces is an initiative by the National Heart Foundation of Australia in collaboration with the Planning Institute of Australia and the Australian Local Government Association. Among many resources compiled by the initiative are the Ten Design Principles for Healthy Spaces and Places. These are listed as being:

  • Active transport
  • Aesthetics
  • Connectivity
  • Environments for all people
  • Mixed density
  • Mixed land use
  • Parks and open space
  • Safety and surveillance
  • Social inclusion
  • Supporting infrastructure

When these design principles are integrated and applied correctly, they can create an environment that supports greater levels of physical activity, reduce the incidence of obesity and improve mental health outcomes.

NSW Premiers Council for Active Living

Established in 2004, the Premiers Council for Active Living is a pioneer in the active living space, comprising senior representatives from across government, industry and the community sector.

One of their key resources is a neat checklist for developers and government alike, titled Development and Active Living: Designing Projects for Active Living – A Development Assessment Resource & Navigational Tool. Embedded within this document is WALQS, a set of five principles of active living:

  1. Walkability and connectivity
  2. Active travel alternatives
  3. Legibility
  4. Quality public domain
  5. Social interaction and inclusion

The other element within this publication I like is the guidance it provides to municipal and state government for provisioning active living outcomes in development control plans and the like. I have been using this checklist tool for years and recommend it to all.

UNITED STATES

In the United States, the following industry heavyweights have emerged:

Urban Land Institute Building Healthy Places

At the Urban Land Institute’s Fall Meeting in Chicago in November 2013, a number of reports were released, including the ULI’s Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places. These principles are:

  • Put people first
  • Recognise the economic value
  • Empower champions for health
  • Energise shared spaces
  • Make healthy choices easy
  • Ensure equitable access
  • Mix it up
  • Embrace unique character
  • Promote access to healthy food
  • Make it active

Supporting these 10 principles is the more detailed publication Intersections: Health and The Built Environment, which I consider to be an excellent publication and recommend to all built environment practitioners.

This publication is but one product delivered through the ULI Building Healthy Places Initiative, which includes a range of research and publications, convenings, and advisory activities in an effort to shape projects and places in ways that improve the health of people and communities.

I am looking forward to more great things coming from this initiative in 2015/16.

The Center for Active Design, Active Design Guidelines

Another pioneer in the active design space is the Center for Active Design based in New York, which is committed to promoting and expanding the world renowned Active Design Guidelines published by New York City in 2010.

This stalwart document Active Design Guidelines: Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Design has been an inspiration to many other organisations. The document, among many things, identifies the key synergies with sustainable and universal design.

The Five ‘D’ Variables identified within the guidelines are key to analysing the relationship between urban design and travel patterns, and are:

  1. Density
  2. Diversity
  3. Design
  4. Destination
  5. Distance

For planning and urban design practitioners, these five variables are at the core to promoting active living. Is your urban design strategy ‘active living-ready’?

CANADA

Planning By Design: A Healthy Communities Handbook

Produced by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in partnership with the Ontario Professional Planners Institute, the Healthy Communities Handbook is about six years old and provides something for everyone. I like this publication as its contents are diverse – case studies, tools for plan-making, municipal checklists and some great diagrams, to name but a few elements.

The publication provides a list of characteristics for organisations to use when assessing urban areas for potential health-related land-use goals, which are:

  • Density
  • Mix of uses
  • Mobility options
  • Connectivity
  • Concentrated uses
  • Street design and management
  • Building design
  • Green infrastructure

These elements help to focus communities on what they want to achieve, their strengths and weaknesses, and potential solutions for achieving health-related outcomes.

Vancouver Healthy City Strategy

Whilst most of the examples I have reviewed here relate to the planning and design of the built environment, I want to include Vancouver, BC’s Healthy City Strategy. This strategy is a long-term, integrated plan for healthier people, healthier places, and a healthier planet, as the website suggests. It is holistic in its view of urban health, and indeed aligns with other key policy priorities of the city, such as housing and homelessness, mental health and addiction.

With the first four-year action plan approved, there are a number of clear goal areas it seeks to achieve. Among the 12 goal areas, I particularly like “A Home for Everyone,” “Cultivating Connections,” and “Expressing Ourselves.” I think Vancouver’s view on a healthy city is the most exciting and holistic I have seen. This is definitely one to watch, and I look forward to reviewing action plans when released and, more importantly, how its goals become institutionalised across the functions of the city.

So raise your kale smoothie and here’s to designing health into our communities and making it as attractive as your wearable health band.

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