Building Healthy Places

Physical design affects human behavior. It’s not something we all consider, but it makes sense that the places in which we live, work and play directly affect our mental and physical health. What if I told you that you can encourage healthy choices through the design and development of physical spaces?

There is high demand for healthy communities, and particularly among the millennial generation. Millennials want to be in a place where the healthy choice is the easy choice: walkable cities, open courtyards, outdoor seating, walkable shopping centers, bike sharing, healthy eating choices, etc. It is also important to recognize the economic value of this as current demographic and socioeconomic trends support this. In our eds-and-meds community, we need to consider the millennial in the planning process. Market demand is responding to the concerns about community health.

For generations, developers and planners have designed places for cars, not people. If we can integrate health into planning and make the explicit connection between development and health, we can promote healthy living. We have tools that can evaluate the potential health effects of a project to consider health from the beginning of planning. By prioritizing people (over cars) we can create a physical environment that encourages walking and other physical activity. Consider the inclusion of bicycle infrastructure into a plan (over car infrastructure) – this promotes health in setting the tone of the physical environment as a healthy environment.

Shake Shack installed an eco-friendly bike corral outside of their Center City location. This installation not only promotes environmental friendliness, but was installed in what once was a street parking space. Here is a prime example of considering people (over vehicles). Shake Shack understood that this is an urban location and they should therefore be catering to the urban dwellers. They took back the street and reimagined their space.

Residential streets are public space, not just a means for vehicular traffic. Making sure the sidewalks are wide enough for pedestrian and retail activity is just one small way to do so. Rethink these public spaces – figure out what spaces are underused and find a creative solution to activate this space.

The real estate industry tends toward simplicity and while developers have traditionally wanted single-use development, we understand the importance of mixing it up. By making a mixed-use development and attracting the right mix of tenants and spaces, we can configure retail to engage and enliven the public environment.

As you will read in our entry about this mixed-use development, Chestnut Square was designed around people. MSC Retail and the developers understood that an active student is a better learner and they wanted to design the retail space to engage people. We did so by not only choosing end users first and strategically planning placement, but also by creating a courtyard and outdoor seating as a way to encourage activity.

By energizing shared spaces, such as courtyards and other common spaces, you can engage residents and create a vibrant community that fosters social interaction to make a positive impact on human health. It is possible to use urban design to create an active community.


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