Healthy high streets: Good place-making in an urban setting

This 2018 report from Public Health England looks at how to create ‘healthy high streets’, and it also outlines the potentially damaging effects of ‘unhealthy high streets’, which may comprise a lack of green space, perceptions of crime, and non-inclusive design. It argues for the ability of high street diversity; green and blue infrastructure; traffic calming; decluttered streets; and feelings of security, to enhance local population health and reduce health inequalities.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

Health inequalities can be seen in places across England, which have been further revealed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This 2018 report from Public Health England looks at how to create ‘healthy high streets’ for all. The authors define a healthy high street as one that “...incorporates aspects of the built environment and its uses which have been shown to be health-promoting, impact positively on physical or mental health outcomes of local populations, and promote easy, inclusive access to a wide range of users” (p. 11). Drawing on a wide range of evidence, alongside case study examples, the report suggests several key ways in which high streets can be transformed to ensure they “...become ‘building blocks’ of good health and contribute to reducing health inequalities between, and within, communities” (p.12), as summarised below.

Ways to encourage healthier high streets

1. High street diversity

High streets should not be designed as just places to shop, but should offer ways for the local community to socialise as well. Accessibility to healthy produce and activities is important, as well as ensuring places are designed to be inclusive for all, with a diverse range of stakeholders involved in decisions made about the future of high streets.

2. Green and blue infrastructure

The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the importance of green spaces for people’s wellbeing. The report argues that ensuring there are more accessible green and blue spaces within our town centres and high streets can have a number of economic, health, and environmental benefits, such as promoting bio-diversity, encouraging active travel such as running, walking and cycling, and creating a sense of place.

3. Traffic calming

The report suggests traffic calming measures can have positive health impacts for the local population by helping to make streets accessible and safe. Such measures can also help to enhance people’s health and the environment by potentially leading to reductions in air and noise pollution. Consultation with a wide range of street users is important when thinking about introducing these initiatives.

4. Street furniture

By removing any unnecessary street furniture, maintaining pavements, ensuring safe pedestrian crossings, and providing basic facilities such as toilets, the report demonstrates how high streets can become more inclusive, be improving accessibility and walkability. By doing so, the overall experience of the high street can be enhanced for a greater number of people.

5. Crime prevention and security

The report advises that crime is ‘designed out’ of high streets to promote greater community wellbeing through promoting feelings of safety. For instance, ongoing care and maintenance of places should be encouraged, and capacity for natural surveillance enhanced, for example, by improving lighting and creating transparent shop frontages.

The report also provides a series of recommendations about how public health directors, local authorities, landscape and urban designers can collaboratively encourage healthy place-making, including the formation of plans to target areas most in need, embedding inclusivity for all into urban design, and to form evidence-based cases of how the high street impacts health.

For more resources on health and place

Please see here for the Health on the High Street Report.

Please see here for NHS England’s Putting Health into Place principles 1-3.