Placemaking’s power to build healthier, happier communities

Placemaking’s power to build healthier, happier communities

From an interesting report called The Case for Healthy Places:
From obesity and chronic disease to depression, social isolation, or increased exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants, communities around the world face pressing health challenges that are far different than those we’ve experienced in the past. Along with unprecedented rates of chronic disease, which affect half of all American adults and include conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 Diabetes, and certain types of cancer, Americans are also facing tremendous mental health challenges today. While many of today’s most common diseases and poor health conditions are linked to behavior—such as physical activity levels and eating habits—these are in turn dependent on access and opportunities within an individual’s physical, social, and economic environments. In other words, many of the factors determining individual and community health are directly related to how the public spaces in our communities are designed. It has become increasingly clear that the way we design our built environment has a direct impact on our health well-being.
The CDC describes healthy places as “those designed and built to improve the quality of life for all people who live, work, worship, learn and play within their borders—where every person is free to make choices amid a variety of healthy,  available, accessible, and affordable options.” As a society, we must pay closer attention to underlying social issues as well as the built environments that play a crucial role in determining individual and community health.
This report uses the idea of “placemaking” as a framework for describing how transforming are designed and operated. As issues such as sprawl and poorly planned growth have resulted in unwalkable communities,public spaces can improve health outcomes. As both an overarching idea and a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region, placemaking is a collaborative process for reshaping the public realm—a community’s streets, parks, and other public spaces—in order to maximize shared value. Placemaking includes a broad cross-section of strategies and projects, running the gamut from farmers markets, community gardens, and public plazas, to efforts to make streets more amenable to pedestrians and bicyclists. But placemaking is not just about the outcome of an improved place, it is grounded in the process itself—observing, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work, and play in a particular area in order to understand their specific needs and aspirations for the place. Even beyond the tangible benefits that placemaking projects can yield, the very process of bringing community members and stakeholders together to shape a place can have powerful social benefits that in turn connect to positive health outcomes. Outlining the ways in which placemaking strategies and projects can improve people’s physical, mental, and social health, this report
analyzes these impacts in five key areas: Social Support & Interaction; Play & Active Recreation; Green & Natural Environments; Healthy Food; and Walking & Biking.

Amy Ginsburg


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