The links between urban design and physical and mental health are well established. So how do you take an evidence-based approach to health-promoting urban design and green spaces? Swedish landscape architects wanted to know how to translate existing evidence into design and looked to researchers to help.
Researchers and landscape architects collaborated on a project using participatory action research methods. Researchers used existing evaluation tools and two case studies were carried out to test the processes.
One case study used an existing park that was due for renewal. Citizens, politicians and planners were involved in collaborative activities. Design proposals were evaluated based on the feedback from the local stakeholders. This is how they discovered the most important design aspects to consider in the second part of the study.
Aspects such as safety, vegetation, water flow, and traffic management were considered in the design. Residents with homes and gardens next to the park were concerned that this would attract visitors from other areas. New users were apparently not welcome to “their” space.
The article explains the collaborative processes that involved the researchers, the landscape architects and other stakeholders. The Quality Evaluation Tool was used as the framework for the study. Some landscape architects found it took time to learn how to use the tool. Others found it wasn’t easy to use it either – they needed something simpler.
However, the tool was useful in knowing how to apply evidence and assist the design process itself. Overall, landscape architects said they had a better understanding of how their designs could promote health and wellbeing.
The title of the article is, Health-promoting urban planning: A case study of an evidence-based design process. There are reflections on participatory action research as part of the concluding comments.
From the Abstract
Planning and building health-promoting, sustainable, and resilient urban environments is a complex challenge. We exercise less, obesity is a growing health problem, and loneliness and lack of human relations are also risk factors for disease and premature death.
Evidence shows that access to nature and urban greenery has positive effects on human health and well-being. Hence, landscape design could contribute to meeting the goals for public health and well-being.
This study explores the application of an evidence-based approach in urban planning for design of health-promoting urban green spaces. A two-step study using participatory action research as the overarching method enabled us to take part in and observe a collaborative practitioner-research process in a municipal planning and design context.
The results show that evidence-based design principles are useful for guiding design interventions for health-promoting environmental qualities. Landscape architects found that the evidence-based process inspired design solutions and gave a higher sense of meaning to their work.
The study also identifies a need to connect health promoting environmental qualities to urban planning guidelines for access to green space. It also identified preconditions in earlier planning phases that enable or limit landscape architects’ ability to develop some of the health-promoting environmental qualities.
To surmount the time-consuming threshold of learning how to use new tools and methods, landscape architects ask for more concrete and easily applied guidelines or checklists to aid design decisions.