NEW eReport #91: Healthy Communities for All Ages

This new E-report focuses on the critical need to promote and support intergenerational communities. Backed by data, policy, and design elements that support “Healthy Communities for all Ages”, this e-report includes slides and papers by 14 experts and researchers from across the globe. The expert content provides a wealth of information, data and insight to advise those committed to the advancement of truly intergenerational communities, and design that promotes aging in place.

Philip B. Stafford highlights the imbalanced priorities of spending and care for elders: while significant funds are spent on aging- related health costs, many countries, including the US,  rank inadequately in terms of aging support. This data supports the notion that this is “not a personal problem, but a community challenge!” Aging is not about time and the body, asserts Stafford, but about relationships… and the meaning of place. Healthy aging requires housing within close proximity to social interaction, health services and stimulation. Public transit helps ensure access to varied population groups. Respect and social inclusion are facilitated by educational and cultural activities. Communication and information stimulates the mind. Social participation in community activities, civic participation, and employment keep one young.  To promote health, longevity, and care for the aging community requires a new zoning and public policy approach to incentivize and influence community development and redevelopment initiatives that promote livability for all ages and abilities – what Stafford calls a “Lifetime Community District”. An example of this is currently being developed in Bloomington, IN.

Lamine Mahdjoubi evaluates the role that healthy streets play in child development and fulfillment. With the rise of sedentary lifestyles and the dominance of automobile centered design, “children have vanished from the streets”, once the domain for neighborhood play.  Highlighted data supports the imperative that outside areas and streets should be made safe for outdoor play, in efforts to mitigate the otherwise impending “physical and mental illness time bomb”. Informal settings are more conducive to longer durations of play, intensity of activity, social interaction and frequency of play. As such, there is a need to encourage play outside of the playground but close to home, with traffic-calmed streets as the ideal setting.

Ireland’s “Age Friendly Towns Project” has played a significant role in assisting localities in making their communities supportive of aging in place. It is a local scaled effort as part of Ireland’s larger national Age Friendly Cities and Counties program, originally initiated by the World Health Organization. The program has established presence in all 31 local authority areas in Ireland in just 7 years. The paper, composed by Age Friendly Ireland, sets out to demonstrate the features of an age-friendly town, ways in which this program has positively impacted the lives of older people, and steps to achieve similar results, thus providing a best practice for practitioners.

Creating Sustainable, Resilient, and Livable Cities- A Call for Transformational Change, a paper authored by Bruce LaRue et al., explores a vision for “achieving green, livable cities”, through human-scaled design. This vision promotes mixed-use spaces that combine work and play, with an emphasis on carbon-neutrality and healthy spaces. The authors encourage “hitting the reset button” by learning from our past and moving from “what” to “what and how”, with a focus on walkability, aging in place, public space, and energy conservation.

Victoria Pinoncely examines the relationship of built environments to physical and mental health in “Healthy Surroundings”. Through evaluating rising health challenges and the associated costs on both developed and developing countries, Pinoncely asserts the imperative for policymakers and professionals to broaden our understanding of health beyond formal avenues such as health care and public health, and instead on urban form and amenities. The paper reviews links between the built environment and health outcomes via the framework of livability and placemaking, with the intention to inform decision makers with best practices that lend to creating environments that ultimately “enhance people’s health and wellbeing”.

“Positive Health Effects of the Natural Outdoor Environment in Typical Populations in Europe”, or PHENOTYPE, investigates the connection between the interaction with nature and health and well-being by highlighting the “underlying mechanisms” such as stress reduction and social interaction. By exploring both conventional and innovative ways of characterizing the natural environment, Nieuwenhuijsen et al. demonstrate the beneficial effects of green space on disease, obesity, cognitive function and mental health, providing evidentiary support of the links between exposure to nature and health and well-being. This paper provides decision-makers with key considerations in land use planning and management as links to improving health outcomes.                                                       

“Healing Space Research in the post-Garden City Era: London Revelation for Health, Well-being and Livability” frames green spaces in greater London as “healing spaces”, hailing the city for its green space networks. The study by Xue Fei and Lau Stephen Siu Yu investigates 15 cases, conducting 60 interviews based on perceptions and use patterns of healing spaces in Greater London. The findings of the study form a conclusion, which ultimately leads to “healing space design” with the goal of enhancing livability and promoting equitable health outcomes.

Luca Dellatorre explores quality of life through urban soundscapes, investigating ways in which the noises of a city affect how inhabitants live and operate in daily life. Dellatorre suggests a more holistic approach to noise consideration, wherein cities are not to focus so much on noise mitigation, but instead noise enhancement. As opposed to viewing sound as a “waste product”, sound can promote enjoyment, comfort and relaxation. “Soundscape Design” aims to develop “good sounding cities”, where soundscapes are designed to satisfy people’s needs. By utilizing soundscape design, inhabitants, planners, and designers are better able to “evolve our current mind-set” towards a more progressive vision of livability with regard to urban noise management.

Dr. Fiona J. Andrews connects livability and place with parenting, and the effects of the built environment, urban or suburban, on a child’s development. “A good place to raise a family? Parenting, place and livability in Melbourne, Australia.” reviews Andrews’ research program, which compares experiences of parents raising children in these two very different settings. Andrews focuses on social networks and community engagement and how those factors affect children in the long term. By looking at both contextual and compositional factors, Andrews highlights ways in which service delivery, social planning, and suburban development can improve livability for these families, whether urban or suburban.

In the paper “Can urban planning and design redress inequities in accessibility? New Zealand Children’s access to urban biodiversity.”, Freemen et al. expose the inequities of green space provision, despite its fundamental ability to enhance both the social and natural environment. More particularly, how access to green space enhances a child’s emotional and intellectual development. Highlighting the notion that green space design is almost always a good planning principle, notably in the context of the increasing urban landscape, provision is often unevenly distributed among social groups. The paper reports the findings of a New Zealand study exploring opportunities to connect to nature among 187 children in three different cities, the outcome of which was great variability. In response to these findings, the paper surveys strategies that planners can employ to overcome variability with regard to equitable access to green space for children.

Ray Green continues this focus on access to green spaces for children, looking more closely at design of green spaces and the integration of natural landscapes and elements into the designs of buildings. Green presents a set of design principles based on early human connection to nature and “biophilia”, which is explained as “the innately emotional affiliation of human being to other living organisms.” This design framework is based on maximizing health benefits derived from contact with nature. It was utilized to guide the design of a children’s hospital and its aim to seamlessly integrate the hospital’s building with an adjacent park, and pays special attention to the integration of medical and psychological literature in the design interventions. The framework ultimately consists of five interventions for increasing contact with nature for the hospital’s patients, staff and visitors. However, Green aims to demonstrate how the same set of principles can be applied more broadly to guide urban open space design.

China continues to explore ways in which to manage its growing aging population through programs for the redevelopment of parks and gardens to promote longevity and active aging. Grant A. Donald focuses his research on the refurbishment of Wanshou Park, a four-part effort integrating rehabilitation, exercise, music, and sport. In exploring active aging, he is able to validate the goals of the Wanshou Park rehabilitation, which seeks to create livable spaces for active seniors and other residents alike. Donald promotes the notion of “free range oldies” and the “RECLAIM framework”, which expands to rehabilitation, exercise, connections, leisure, amenities, initiatives, and music. By framing the increasing aging challenge as one that belongs to us all, he creates the imperative to look to the efforts of Wanshou Park as a proactive model for intergenerational livability, and reducing the burden of seniors by facilitating longevity and autonomy through access to multi-dimensional parks.

“Nursing students walking the walk of counteracting environmental health inequalities”, authored by Jacqueline Davies, features the initiative for student nurses to observe environmental inequities first-hand, by “walking the walk” in some of London’s most challenged areas. Through guided walks in areas that have historically contrasted livability, students are confronted with the evolution of public health concerns and the presence of inequality. The effort provides an innovative approach to the relationship between health and livability, by looking at social inequities and the inequitable distribution of amenities in areas. Ultimately the assignment provides students with a firsthand account of the issues of which they are addressing, getting them into the field to gain understanding not otherwise achieved in the classroom.

For more information, and to order