Creating spaces for healthier people and a healthier planet


By Karen Turnbull

Karen Turnbull explores ADP's approach to building healthier environments.

'Healthy people and a healthy planet are two sides of the same coin' – Director General Dr Margaret Chan (WHO)

Health is the new obsession, and rightly so, moving our reactive approach from treatment of diseases and illness, to prevention, through the promotion of a culture of physical and mental wellbeing.

Places that support our mental and physical health are better for society, better for reducing the impact on the NHS, better for creating communities that are economically successful where people want to live and work. The philosophy extends to planetary health, with the health of human civilisation inextricably linked to the health of the earth’s natural systems.

A significant proportion of the critical health issues of our time caused by lifestyle factors are obesity, inactivity and isolation, exacerbated by poor diet and the dominance of the car, with the alarming statist that 50% of air pollution in European Cities is from the transport sector.

Good quality people centric design, can transform lifestyles, in addition to delivering resilience to other threats, such as pollution and climate change. An approach we applaud at ADP with our ‘People Inspired’ philosophy reinforcing the value of health and wellbeing within the design process from small-scale projects through to larger scale masterplans.

Sustainable development, through consideration of social, environmental and economic factors, delivers this agenda, through creating safe places that encourage and enable active travel as the first choice, while minimising carbon emissions and pollution. Integrating mixed-use development assists, maintaining vibrant communities and again reducing travel impacts. Public realm with plentiful green infrastructure enhances biodiversity, minimising the heat island effect, controlling surface water run-off, improving air quality and creating attractive places that people want to use.

The Healthy Cities conference held by SALUS Global Knowledge Exchange this autumn, demonstrated that a multi-sector approach is vital to tackle these issues in cities as they rapidly grow. From public health and medical professionals, through to urban designers, designers, policymakers and communities. The audience and topics reflected cross sector interest with the urgency and challenge required to address the growing crisis.

Infographic courtesy of Healthy Streets for London: http://content.tfl.gov.uk/healthy-streets-for-london.pdf

There are excellent examples where policy and action is demonstrating awareness of healthy places, from the Healthy Streets for London to make London’s streets healthier, safer and more welcoming, to NHS England’s involvement in working with 10 new towns across the UK, working on social cohesion, activity, integrated with health and care services. Cross collaboration in Scotland is evident through Scottish Natural Heritage working with a range of sectors including NHS Scotland to develop ‘Our Natural Health Service’ to improve use of the outdoors for a healthier Scotland.

Our work within the higher education sector at a masterplanning scale reflects a city as a microcosm, enabling the effective application of key principles to integrate health and wellbeing, with sustainable development as a key driver.

ADP developed the current University of Leeds Masterplan, creating a framework to improve the current site and identify key zones to insert new facilities to form an overall cohesive campus. The focus was to improve the legibility and quality of the campus through applying specific principles while linking in with the University’s strategies for growth and sustainable development, to enhance the experience of students, staff, visitors and the community.

Campus infrastructure sought to improve clarity of gateways, routes through the campus, safety and security, social spaces and the overall campus experience. A robust travel plan has minimised car use while increasing pedestrian and cycle use, enabling access through the campus to be safe, easy and healthy, while minimising carbon emissions. A hierarchy of routes strengthens legibility for all travel forms, including reducing the impact of service strategies. This approach combines with active fronts and greater site permeability to enhance a sense of place and create vibrancy through improved public realm, improving the image of the University.

Greening the urban campus is a priority demonstrated through a series of green corridors with linkages to allow wildlife to move through the campus, in addition to providing opportunities for use of rainwater attenuation through use of green roofs and swales. One example of how biodiversity will benefit from the approach is through the development of a green highway linking through the campus for bees and other insects, forming connections to the University’s Sustainable Garden and to beehives that are located on buildings across the campus.

Understanding the complexities and the need for greater collaboration in delivering spaces that actually deliver health and wellbeing is critical. A range of positive measures considered throughout the design process is a simple yet effective way to rebalance development that puts people at the heart of the process, an approach ADP strongly approves of.


(Top image courtesy of: https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/public-space-improvements-walthamstow-village)


Karen Turnbull

Karen Turnbull

Karen joined ADP in 1996 and is the practice's Sustainability Leader.
She leads the in-house sustainability team, providing BREEAM and bespoke sustainability services.