How reimagining our built environments can make people “healthier”

The latest research from the Design Council and Social Change UK highlights the health and economic benefits of making neighbourhoods more walkable and designing houses that don’t leave people feeling isolated.

The Design Council has released a report that looks at how the design of built environments including housing and parks can be used to tackle health and social issues such as obesity and depression.

The Healthy Placemaking report has been carried out in collaboration with social research company Social Change UK, and aims to show the public and economic benefits of development and regeneration in towns and cities.

The national research survey was launched by the Design Council last year, against the backdrop of mounting pressure on health and social care services in the UK. High levels of physical inactivity among the UK, for example, is costing the country an estimated £7.4 billion every year, according to the Design Council.

Increased pressure on NHS

“With ever-increasing pressures on the NHS to fight preventable health issues such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, we need to consider new ways to fight this growing health epidemic,” says Design Council CEO Sarah Weir OBE. “As a recognised leader within the architecture and built environment sector, we want to fully understand what stops those who design and build the places that we live and work in making us healthier and happier.”

Over 600 architects, urban designers and town planners were surveyed as part of the research, who shared their views and experiences of “healthy placemaking”. According to the report’s findings, most of the respondents agreed about the benefits of healthier built environments on people’s wellbeing, but cited a lack of investment by clients as one of the key barriers.

The report’s findings recommend that the government, local authorities and built environment professionals all need to work together to ensure that placemaking is healthy as possible in the UK. Specific recommendations made by the report include increasing the walkability of buildings and neighbourhoods, improving access to healthy foods and reducing exposure to air and noise pollution. It also recommends providing access to natural environments such as parks, and designing housing and neighbourhoods with well-connected amenities to reduce social isolation and loneliness.

“Put healthy placemaking top of the agenda”

Social Change UK CEO Kelly Hunstone, says: “People want to live in comfortable, breathable homes that make them feel safe and secure. They want access to green spaces and cycle paths and the kind of environment that promotes a healthy lifestyle and happier life.

“This should be the right of everyone – and not the few – and I urge our decision makers – our politicians, our planners and anyone involved in the design and construction of our villages, towns and cities to put healthy placemaking top of the agenda.”

For more info, and to read the Healthy Placemaking report in full, head here.