An opinion piece on the Design Council website gives an overview of the study they did with Social Change UK. More than 600 built environment practitioners across the UK completed the survey. They found that healthy placemaking often sits outside mainstream housing, public health and placemaking policy. It is seen as a cost rather than an investment and consequently often gets overlooked.
The article explains the economic benefits of healthy placemaking. The Design Council defines healthy placemaking as, “tackling preventable disease by shaping the built environment so that healthy activities and experiences are integral to people’s everyday lives.” Improved physical and mental health can be supported by designing neighbourhoods that enable:
- Physical activity: To increase walkability in buildings and neighbourhoods and encourage healthy modes of transport
- Healthy food: To improve access to healthier foods
- Social contact: To design well-connected housing and neighbourhoods that provide access to facilities and amenities to reduce social isolation and loneliness,
- Contact with nature: To provide access to the natural environment, including parks
- Pollution: Reducing exposure to air and noise pollution.
This all adds up to compact, mixed-use, walkable and wheelable neighbourhoods with leafy streets and great parks.
Measuring the benefits of universal design
Dr David Bonnett writes in an opinion piece for the Design Council, that health professionals need to step up to show the benefits (cost savings) of designing inclusively. He argues that inclusive design contributes to our health and wellbeing, but these benefits don’t get measured.
In the UK new buildings, both public infrastructure and private homes, must incorporate basic access features. But older buildings are not under the same regulation. There are costs for refurbishing older buildings, but by now we should be calculating that cost more effectively.
The cost of improving these are borne by local authorities. Bonnet says, “Design professionals, highways engineers included, are open to influence, and access consultants and others can tell them what to do. But first, health professional must assist in devising a method for demonstrating the benefits of inclusive design in order to make the case. Concerns for health succeeded in a ban on smoking in public building almost overnight. Inclusive design – already fifty years in the making – has got some catching up to do.”
We sometimes hear mention of the cost of bed days for falls, for example, and other conditions that are brought about by poorly designed environments, but as Bonnett says, it is time for the health profession to get on board.