The opportunity to create, strengthen and inspire the connection between people and public places from a holistic perspective has never been greater... How can we make the most of it?
he pandemic has reinforced the importance of health and wellbeing in our society.
While some will prefer the flexibility afforded by our new work-life balance – less commuting and more opportunities to enjoy open spaces – for many, being rooted in one place is likely to have increased overall levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
Covid-19 has also highlighted the disparities in health and wellbeing outcomes across the country, with those in the poorest living conditions – cramped or overcrowded homes, with poor natural light and lack of access to an outside space – among the most negatively affected.
These issues were highlighted in Productive Placemaking, the report by the APPG on Building Communities, that I chair. Although written pre-pandemic, the findings are even more relevant in a post-Covid world.
I am convinced that creating healthy, urban environments should be key to our recovery strategy. Bob Blackman MP
Nature and nurture
With government focusing on not only building back better but also faster and greener, placemaking will provide an opportunity to reduce social inequalities and tackle long-term environmental issues that have resulted in poor health outcomes for many. I am convinced that creating healthy, urban environments should be key to our recovery strategy.
What do these places look like? Readers of Planning will know better than me but from a layman’s perspective this is about creatively designing communities to encourage socialising between residents, ensuring they are inclusive and accessible to everyone – no matter their age or physical ability – and bringing nature into the heart of towns and cities.
Given the decline in pollution in some of our largest conurbations during lockdown, measures to improve air quality will have to come to the fore. That means more mixed-use city design and active travel measures that make streets both cleaner and safer.
For example, encouraging the current increase in cycling through better infrastructure has a direct impact on wellbeing – a recent study by the British Medical Journal found there was a staggering 45% reduction in deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease among those who cycled to work each day.
This does not mean impacting on motorists: we can create safe cycle routes away from existing roads. This avoids cramming dedicated lanes for cyclists, buses and cars on the same stretch of road causing congestion and the worst kind of air.
Equally, for those for whom it is impractical to cycle, we need more investment in public transport networks, notably environmentally-friendly, next-generation buses, trains and trams, as well as increased car parking facilities at stations.
If 'Building Back Better' is to become a reality, placemaking must be at the heart of the government’s upcoming planning reforms. Not only will this nurture the communities where people truly want to live, work and play but also create spaces that promote better health and wellbeing for all.
Bob Blackman MP is chairman of the APPG on Building Communities, which brings together politicians and the industry to influence community building and placemaking. The Secretariat is provided by the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE).
This article originally appeared in Planning magazine, and online at Planning Resource.