Seven ways to create healthy communities post-COVID

Seven ways to create healthy communities post-COVID

Town planners should be ‘visionaries’ to address the converging public health, climate emergency and economic recovery challenges to create healthy communities post-COVID, according to a new report by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

Enabling Healthy Placemaking calls for greater levels of cooperation and collaboration between health, social care, and planning professionals to ensure people’s health needs are integrated into the conceptualisation, design and planning stages of new developments in the future. It highlights seven ways to enable planners to lead the way in creating healthy and sustainable communities for the future.

Deputy Head of Policy and Research at the RTPI and author of the report, Aude Bicquelet-Lock, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on much that is wrong with our communities and laid bare the fact that many people’s health has suffered as a result of sub-standard living conditions. This is largely due to the fact that over the years the health needs of communities have often been forgotten in the race to meet housing targets and appease developers.

“The links between town planning and good health have long been established and there is a plethora of evidence proving that healthy places create healthy people who in turn are able to contribute to and build a healthy economy.

“Healthy place-making is critical to address health challenges and reduce inequality, so it is now vital that we overcome some of the barriers to creating healthy places, turn the evidence into policy and the policy into action to create the healthy, resilient and inclusive places necessary for people to thrive.”

Results from an analysis of 15 case studies and 10 interviews suggest that successful projects are all underpinned by a long term ‘vision’, fruitful collaboration, communication and adequate funding.

Barriers to creating healthy places include current legislation and policies, insufficient funding and requirements and expectations of developers.

Seven ways to enable healthy placemaking:

  1. Move the Debate Forward. Putting principles of healthy placemaking into practice has become critical — and will become even more critical in a post COVID-19 context. Focusing on effective implementation rather than on normative principles is now key to address place-based health challenges and to reduce inequalities.
  2. Make Collaboration Work. Greater levels of cooperation between public health, social care and planning professionals are essential. Innovative partnerships, communication and adequate resourcing often underpin successful projects and models of cooperation.
  3. Formalise health principles in planning decisions. Our study suggests that by incorporating health needs and impact into the conceptualisation, design and planning of projects, policy makers, planners and built environment professionals are able to influence the development of sustainable communities. Our results strengthen the argument for an upstream shift to address key obstacles to healthy living via, for instance, Health Impact Assessments (HIAs).
  4. Equip planners with the right skills. Leadership; Innovation; Collaboration and Negotiation were deemed essential by our respondents to overcome barriers and oppositions. Endowing planners with the right skills and giving them the opportunity to expend their knowledge and/or experience were considered critical to help the implementation of health based approaches to placemaking.
  5. Resource Planning adequately. Investing in planning is crucial to ensure the delivery of healthy, sustainable places and inclusive communities. To ‘level up’ Britain, targeted investments will be needed (especially in a post COVID-19 economic context) across regions but also across projects (e.g. housing, infrastructure development, high streets rejuvenation) to ensure that no places are ‘left behind’.
  6. Engage the public in planning decisions. People thrive in places that fulfil their needs and that they have had the ability to shape. Engaging communities in planning decisions is crucial to foster social capital, a sense of community and individual well-being. Public participation in the design of post-COVID-19 cities will be even more important to ensure long-term success of new, resilient and sustainable urban environments.
  7. Shape the future. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented solutions. Participants in our study were keen to highlight the need for planners to be ‘visionaries’ in order to address the convergence of challenges around Public Health, Climate Emergency, and Economic Recovery. Harnessing the benefits of digital tools and principles of ‘green recovery’ were often cited as ‘the best ways forward’.

This latest report adds weight the RTPI’s Plan the World We Need campaign which calls on governments across the UK and Ireland to capitalise on the expertise of planners to achieve a sustainable, resilient and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The was launched alongside a report, Plan The World We Need: The contribution of planning to a sustainable, resilient and inclusive recovery, and a short film by RTPI President, Sue Manns, at the Institute’s annual conference, Planner Live, on 29th June 2020.

The creation of a Health Evidence Repository and the publication of a set of practice notes describing key skills and delivery strategies necessary to implement healthy placemaking principles will soon follow the publication of this report.

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