Enabling Healthy Placemaking – Overcoming Barriers and Learning from Best Practices

This study conducted by the Royal Town Planning Institute highlights solutions that planners can take to overcome the barriers often presented when designing healthy urban environments. These solutions deal with public engagement, improved collaboration, increased knowledge and understanding of public health issues, or the importance of data, research and creativity.

Date added 16 July 2020
Last updated 19 July 2020

This study – Enabling Healthy Placemaking – has been written by the Royal Town Planning Institute in 2020. The document looks at the challenges that place makers face when designing healthy places, and presents practical solutions that planners can implement to overcome those barriers. This is a qualitative study based on 15 case studies in the UK and abroad. This study is a response to the lack of literature concerned with presenting solutions rather than outlining barriers and challenges.

The promotion of good health comes hand-in-hand with town planning. The relation between the natural and built environment, and public health is long established. This work highlights that this connection becomes even more prominent in times of COVID-19, when the urban environment has to be rethought and managed to reduce transmission of the virus (i.e. widening of sidewalks to allow social distancing).

This document highlights how, for many years, planners have focused on designing urban infrastructure that encourages active transport (i.e. walking or cycling) as this brings about active lifestyles and clean air, both of which are central to physical wellbeing. Efforts have also been set in creating and maintaining greenspace that allows to exercise but also for citizens to meet and create bonds, as these have an impact on physical and mental health.

Although these health benefits are widely accepted, this research explains that it is often problematic to translate them into practice. Common barriers are: insufficient funding or time, local and national policy, the expectations of politicians, communication, engaging communities, etc. This qualitative study highlights possible solutions to overcome these barriers and successfully engage in the design of healthy urban environments.

The findings in this study are 7 steps to overcome such barriers. These are: 1) Moving the debate forward (i.e. reaching agreement on adequate objectives); 2) Making Collaboration Work (i.e. greater levels of cooperation between public health, social care and planning professionals); 3) Formalising health principles in planning decisions (i.e. assess the potential health effects of proposed projects and policies); 4) Equipping planners with the right skills (i.e. opportunity to expend public health knowledge); 5) Resourcing Planning adequately (i.e. investing in planning); 6) Engaging the public in planning (i.e. to learn from local knowledge and create a feeling of belonging); and finally, 7) Shaping the future (i.e. data and information to imagine the future).