Last year, I attended the Healthy City Design congress at the Royal College of Physicians which was a fantastic venue. During the lunch breaks I really enjoyed catching 15 minutes of sunshine in Regent’s Park opposite. It was the perfect alignment of points being discussed at the conference, being played out in practice. Seeing all the joggers, cyclists, people taking a stroll through the park and parents with kids brought into sharp focus the issues being discussed such as childhood obesity; improved health outcomes for the elderly and seeing examples from the Healthy New Towns programme.
My resounding thought from last year’s conference was around how much incredible academic research is taking place in this field but how much more this needs to filter through to those of us working at the coalface of built environment decision making.
The 2020 Healthy City Design conference kicks off on Monday with the theme of “Designing resilient communities: Recovery, renewal and renaissance”. Obviously, this year’s conference will be entirely virtual; so no Regent’s Park strolls for me. The contrast is brought into sharp focus as most people will instead be sat in their own homes which for some are pleasant, spacious and relaxing spaces. Unfortunately, many others don’t have such environments to call home, which emphasises the importance of collectively ensuring that the places we design and create lead to improved health rather than inadvertently contributing to poorer health.
At Iceni we are seeing a growing movement in companies focused on bridging this gap between academia and day-to-day decision making and we are developing synergies with other forward thinking companies such as LifeProven Wellbeing Property Consultancy who provide an academic based framework aligned directly to the RIBA Plan of Work Stages, so that property professionals know what, how and when to consider health and wellbeing factors in their day-to-day decision making when delivering a building.
Our Iceni Futures team sees this approach as being fundamental to delivering futureproof development that is adaptable to changing circumstances, lifestyles and climate. Whilst the coronavirus pandemic has led to renewed attention on our health and wellbeing, so too will climate change, as rising temperatures will increase the urban heat island effect, building overheating and ultimately, our stress levels and wellbeing.
I am delighted to be contributing to the Health and Wellbeing in Planning Network workshop which is taking place during one of the sessions focusing on ‘Innovations in turning knowledge into action in planning for healthy equitable urban environments’ along with other contributors from Public Health England, the Tennessee Department of Health and consultancy firm, PlaceChangers.
I’m looking forward to being inspired and seeing the progress made over the last 12 months as there is no doubt that health and the impact of health on society has been brought into focus in a way that few of us would have predicted. These are not issues to be considered in silos; we have absolute clarity that society is a complex ecosystem of economic, social, health, nature and environmental factors (plus many more). Equilibrium is key. It will be great to turn the dial up more so that health and wellbeing is a standard factor to consider in built environment decision making. Whilst the current emphasis of decision making is often on building and land considerations, it’s key to remember that people are at the heart of it all.