Planning a health creating community (November 12, 2021) by Cat Lyddon

Creating resilient and regenerative communities

There is no single way to create a healthy community, this roundtable discussed diverse ways of working to create health with people and nature within the design process.

SALUS Global Knowledge Exchange presented recent work to prepare a set of Guiding Principles to plan a health-creating community.  SALUS director Marc Sansom identified how this project has been in support of one particular proposed community in Ontario, Canada and how the principles can be more widely applied.

These Guiding Principles were noted to address a development of approximately 900 acres being a place for around 100,000 people to live and work.  In Canada and specifically Ontario there is significant projected population growth to 2050 projected raising debate over how this future population should be provided for and what their needs will be.

Introducing this roundtable at the Healthy City Design congress Mario Bozzo, chairing, noted that this raises questions like how do you grow; do you grow up through densification of existing communities or do you grow out placing pressures on less developed land?

Veraine, Ontario is a proposed development in an area of so-called whiteland.  Ontario’s whitelands have somewhat undefined status in planning policy terms presenting both challenges and opportunities.  Veraine is identified as an opportunity to do something different and better.  With significant population growth at a provincial level likely to require development both upwards and outwards to accommodate the future communities and their health needs. How can this be achieved without exacerbating existing challenges of climate, nature, and biodiversity emergencies?  The discussion identified the need step away from past ways of development and change how we look at growth. The new development needs to be underpinned by the concept that healthy people create healthy communities.

Mark Drane shared Urban Habitats’ work with SALUS as the project research lead. He identified that for the development to be beneficial for human health and planetary health, these approaches need to be evidence informed and also action orientated – being comprehensible and engaging for all stakeholders. The Guiding Principles are conceptualised as a health-creating ecosystem, where people, health, and planet are intertwined.  The role of creating agency or a sense of control was also noted as vital including for First Nations peoples and all groups in the community, particularly those who are potentially vulnerable.

The core of this session focused on presentations of and discussion between several case studies sourced from across SALUS’ global network.  These presented global exemplars of where healthy development thinking has recently led to or is leading to creation of healthy communities: in every sense of the word:

Bicester Healthy New Town, UK

Victoria Walton from Cherwell District Council discussed the successes of this NHS healthy new town, and indeed one of the fastest growing in the EU. Bicester is tackling the inclusion and equality disparities through a range of measures including leveraging the built and natural environment.  It is transforming what is already in place, and redeveloping areas to make them healthier for the whole town, with co-creation being a priority.

Regen Villages, USA, Sweden, UK, Canada, Netherlands

James Ehrlich, founder of Regen Villages discussed how to combine machine learning, technology, and built and natural environments to help create new healthy and regenerative communities. A spin-off company launched from the Stanford University School of Medicine Flourishing Project, their aim is to create the future of living by building regenerative and resilient communities. Regen Villages offer critical life support including organic food, clean water, renewable energy, and circular nutritional flows at the neighbourhood scale.

Hammarby, Sweden

Carl Bäckstrand, CEO of White Arkitekter, talked about the ongoing transformation from the 1990s of this former industrial area owned primarily by the municipality which it continues to develop as a healthy neighbourhood as part of the wider city. Home to 28,000 people, bringing together public bodies, water and waste agencies, energy suppliers, and residents an inclusive perspective was sought from the outset. Embracing a mixed-use area, less space for vehicles means more green space for the community.

Energy Garden, UK

Supporting communities to improve biodiversity and grow food around transport infrastructure, Agamemnon Otero, Director and CEO discussed how Energy Gardens have supported communities to become more sustainable and resilient. There are three clear aims of the project: to raise awareness of environmental issues, create inspiring community infrastructure, and cultivate community resilience. The spaces that are created are run by and for the communities that use the transport links in the area, loaning a considerable emphasis on the importance of collaborative creating.

Vertical Future, UK

Jamie Burrows, Founder and CEO, addressed the issue of climate change and the significant affect this will have on how we grow food and in turn the cost of it. Agriculture needs to evolve in light of the climate emergency and so there needs to be a shift of thinking to enable people to grow food within their communities. Vertical Future aims to introduce Vertical Farming including Controlled Environment Agriculture and even container labs into communities.

The Atlanta Beltline, USA

Urban thinker, Ryan Gravel, spoke about the concept of transforming the existing 22 mile disused railroad that circulates Atlanta into light use rail and multiuse walking and cycling trail whilst revitalising 45 neighbourhoods in its surrounds. What started as a post-graduate thesis project has developed into an exciting and successful development project.  Since then, a collaborative network has been established to achieve goals, inclusion of the people in the project has enabled them to believe in it, fuelling project expansion. Merging art, history and housing,

As Ryan Gravel concluded: what happens when you take the idea of adding art and housing and history and you consult the people who is directly affects?  You get an incredible response, both emotionally and an investible proposition to create a healthier, more resilient city which is now emerging.

First Nations Technical Institute, Canada

A net zero building that is focussed on the health and wellbeing of the people, community and the planet. As Alice Liang, Principal Emeritus, Montgomery Sisam Architects, highlights, First Nations Technical Institute is leading the way as a climate changing building, bringing environmental awareness into the built environment, whilst reflecting the values of First Nations Peoples who use it.

Consultations with First Nations People enabled the combination of history, culture and health to be integral in this project, creating a unique and purposeful space. Set with a big ambition, this building development has the hopes of being reflected across the whole of Canada.

Roundtable discussion

The closing discussion of the session, concluded with some key points to take forward when planning a health-creating community:

  • We need to focus on resilient and regenerative communities, and these are crucial for developing and delivering healthy outcomes.
  • Allowing ownership of a community by the people who live there is key to creating an equitable environment. This can be achieved by affordable housing, policy changes to ensure people can stay in the area they value.
  • There needs to be representation in the planning model of all groups that the community serves.

Urban Habitats

A health creating place, as envisioned by our own values here at Urban Habitats, is an enabler of living a full and happy life.  This should be what drives people to instigate the change from previous ways of development toward a regenerative future. To achieve this it is essential that planning strategy involves co-creating with diverse communities.  After all, the more people who co-create where they live, work, and play, the more people’s concerns will be addressed.

Healthy City Design International: Research, Policy, Practice

Healthy City Design International Congress & Exhibition is a global forum for the exchange of knowledge on the research, policy and practice of designing healthy and sustainable cities and communities.  The theme of this year’s congress was: ‘Back from the brink: Designing for climate, community and social value’.  Urban Habitats is delighted to support the congress as Knowledge Leaders.

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