What is healthy placemaking?

There are many factors that influence the long-term health and wellbeing of the population, including the nature of the places that people live, work, learn and spend their leisure time in. The design of buildings, streets, parks and neighbourhoods can support good physical and mental health, help reduce health inequalities and improve people's wellbeing. Conversely, car-oriented environments and hostile public spaces can contribute to sedentary lifestyles and social isolation, increasing people's risk of disease. 

We champion healthy placemaking through the independent design advice services we provide to Local Authorities, institutions and infrastructure providers, embedding the principles of healthy placemaking in the development process to improve the health of the nation.

Why it matters

  • Perspectives on Psychological Science (2015)

    Social isolation, including having few social ties and living alone, increases a person’s risk of dying early by 29%. *
  • Public Health England (2014)

    In the UK, nearly 37,000 deaths per year could be avoided through increased physical activity. *
  • Public Health England (2014)

    Mental illnesses form 23% of the UK’s national disease burden (loss of life quality and early mortality). *
  • Department of Health (2009)

    28% of children in England aged two to 15 are overweight or obese, increasing their risk of disease in later life. *

Physical inactivity alone is responsible for one in six UK deaths (equal to smoking) and is estimated to cost the UK £7.4 billion annually. Behaviour patterns are responsible for 40% of the cause of premature death in the UK. An evidence review by Public Health England substantiates the theory that improved physical and mental health can be supported by designing neighbourhoods that enable:

  • Physical activity: To increase walkability in buildings and neighbourhoods and encourage healthy modes of transport
  • Healthy food: To improve access to healthier foods
  • Social contact: To design well-connected housing and neighbourhoods that provide access to facilities and amenities to reduce social isolation and loneliness
  • Contact with nature: To provide access to the natural environment, including parks
  • Pollution: Reducing exposure to air and noise pollution.

This all adds up to compact, mixed-use, walkable neighbourhoods with leafy streets and great parks.


What stops us from creating healthier places?

In January 2017, Design Council responded to a call for research proposals from the social purpose marketing agency Social Change UK. We proposed exploring a difficult question: what stops built environment professionals creating healthier places through their work? Our bid was selected and we worked with Social Change UK to undertake this research, starting with a survey.

We worked with Social Change UK to survey over 600 built environment practitioners across the UK to understand their views and experiences across multiple areas on healthy place making and possible barriers. The survey was completed by a broad range of built environment practitioners, from architects and landscape architects to town planners and urban designers. We followed this up with telephone interviews with 30 built environment practitioners to delve deeper and gain further insight into their responses.

The research uncovered:

  • 48% of built environment practitioners said that in their day-to-day work, they either ‘often’ or ‘always’ increased walking and cycling activity amongst residents
  • 35% said their work either ‘often’ or ‘always’ decreased the use of private motor vehicles
  • But built environment practitioners are more likely to consider health and wellbeing when designing outdoor spaces (52% say they do so ‘often’ or ‘always’) than when designing indoor spaces (34%)
  • Only 40% of the practitioners surveyed felt they helped to deliver compact, mixed-use neighbourhoods.
  • Healthy placemaking interventions are excluded from design proposals due to the perceived cost to implement them – 55% of the practitioners surveyed reported that insufficient funding prevented them from creating healthy places.
  • The systems, policies and processes of the planning and building design and development are not currently supportive towards healthy placemaking.
  • Greater understanding is needed – amongst the general public but also politicians – about the effect of the built environment on health.

The report also found:

  • Many practitioners are not using data and insight to design and create healthy places.
  • Very few practitioners can demonstrate impact.
  • While the public are consulted about developments, the timing, tools and techniques vary.
  • Highways, and guidance on highways, make it difficult to create healthy places.
  • Priorities differ across government departments leading to conflict, confusion and no shared vision on healthy placemaking.
  • The vision for healthy place making is clear but this vision does not always translate into delivery of projects on the ground.

Read the full report

Download the full Healthy Placemaking report – exploring the attitudes and behaviours of built environment practitioners towards healthy placemaking.

Read the report


Video: Design Council discuss healthy placemaking on London LIVE Design Council CEO Sarah Weir OBE and Director of Policy and Communications Sally Benton appeared on London LIVE to discuss our Healthy Placemaking research. Design Council's Sarah Weir OBE and Sally Benton on how the Built Environment can affect our physical and mental health.

News — 19/04/2018

How do we create places that deliver healthier lives? New research from Design Council and Social Change UK into the use of healthy placemaking practises by Built Environment professionals investigates. Our new research into the use of healthy placemaking practises by Built Environment professionals investigates further.

News — 16/04/2018

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Feature — 04/05/2017