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Enabling healthy placemaking

03 September 2019 Author: Aude Bicquelet-Lock

Overcoming barriers and learning from best practices - call for evidence, case studies and interviews

Background to our research: planning for health and mental well-being

Aude Blog PageThe links between town planning and the promotion of good health have long been established. In fact, as recently noted by Hugh Barton, planning and public health are ‘siblings’ - both emerged in the late nineteenth century in reaction to the unsanitary, overcrowded and inhumane conditions of industrial cities.

By contrast with the nineteenth century though, ill health now stems (at least in the developed world) from chronic rather than infectious disease. There is now an understanding that where we live and work affects not just our physical health but also our mental health. We know, for instance, that damp, mould, threat of eviction, overcrowding and unstable tenancies are all likely to negatively affect physical and mental health.

We also know that access to natural settings in neighbourhood (and in the course of our daily routines) is important. Walkability – especially between homes and places where we work, and access services and facilities – is associated with reduced stress levels and better physical and mental health. By and large, there has been a growing realisation that that ‘happiness’ is very much related to where we live. Take, for instance, the 12 happiness factors used in the now established Rightmove survey - each of the twelve factors can affect our physical and mental well-being and, crucially, all factors are either directly or indirectly related to planning.

Current policy recommendations

As we argued in our recent Happy at Home blog, it is very positive to see the increased openness and willingness to talk about mental health that has emerged in recent years in our society. From a policy perspective too – the importance of good placemaking on health and mental well-being is more and more recognised. The Quality of Life Commission Report, for instance, recently called for more sustainable urban footprint to underpin healthier and more fulfilling lifestyles.

As the NHS faces exploding costs due to lifestyle-related disease, NHS England's Healthy New Town programme promotes the benefits that well-designed places can bring to the physical and mental health of residents. Even the desire of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission to create spaces ‘for beauty’ cannot be separated from concerns about health and mental well-being. As stated in the Commission’s interim findings report, truly sustainable places and buildings will need to be beautiful in order to stand the test of time, with features that deliver for public health, well-being and biodiversity.

Although we might be wary of discussing 'beauty' because we have not progressed much in our understanding of what makes building beautiful, several recent studies have pointed to the importance of aesthetics for well-being. For instance, recent evidence gathered by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health suggests that people who considered the attractiveness of their neighbourhood to be ‘very good’ rather than ‘poor’ were three times more likely to have high mental well-being.

RTPI call for local, national and international evidence

Recent studies have identified important barriers to creating healthy places such as lack of funding, different requirements or expectations from developers, conflicting policy priorities and a lack of knowledge and skills needed for the creation and delivery of healthy places.

However, although the barriers to building places where healthy activities and experiences are integral to people’s everyday’s lives are well-known, very few studies have actually focused on solutions and looked at how these barriers can be overcome to enable the design of healthy urban and rural environments.

In this study, we want to explore the local, national and international policies and practices that enable healthy placemaking. With a particular focus on tackling and accommodating mental health-related issues, we are calling for evidence (case studies and people who are willing to be interviewed) to find out best practices in the design and development of healthy places.

The aims of our research are twofold;

  1. To produce a set of practice notes describing the key skills and delivery strategies necessary to implement the values and principles of healthy placemaking, and
  2. To create a centralised repository of evidence where practitioners can find out local issues and needs, case studies and best practices, recommendations and lessons learnt from other projects to use in their own work. 

If you'd like to take part in our study, please fill in our call for evidence.

If you have any questions, please contact Prof Aude Bicquelet-Lock or
Sarah Lewis

Please note that we will be discussing our research at the following events:

Aude Bicquelet-Lock

Aude Bicquelet-Lock

Professor Aude Bicquelet-Lock is RTPI Deputy Head of Policy and Research and Visiting Professor at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments, University of the West of England.