Here are but three of the somber statistics found in the new book: Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability:
- Two out of every three American adults twenty years or older are overweight or obese (Flegal, 2010).
- Since 2000, antidepressants have become the most prescribed medication in the United States (Olfson and Marcus, 2009).
- In 2007, 16 percent of the United State’s gross domestic product – $2.3 trillion – was spent on health care (Orszag and Ellis, 2007).
This book by Dr. Andrew L. Dannenberg, Dr. Howard Frumkin, and Dr. Richard J. Jackson, and over 50 contributing authors illuminates the connection between how communities are designed and built and the impact on physical, mental, social, environmental, and economic well-being. As noted in the preface, “Nations of the twenty-first century are caught up in a perfect storm of intersecting health, environmental, and economic challenges: escalating health care and social costs, environmental threats from resource depletion and climate change, economic impacts associated with the ‘end of oil’ and an aging population and workforce, and an inadequate educational approach that rests on and perpetuates silos of knowledge and disciplines.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Here are four of the many positive findings offered by the editors:
- Green settings have the capacity to alleviate mental fatigue and help restore a person’s capacity to pay attention.
- Places that encourage physical activity can both prevent and treat depression.
- Contact with nature can improve health; this effect is supported by both theory and empirical research.
- Built environment design that improves the quality of life for one population often does so for many populations.
This 370-page book contains 27 extensively footnoted chapters organized in five sections: Introduction; The Impact of Community Design on Health; Diagnosing and Healing Our Built Environment; Strategies for Healthy Places: A Toolbox and Looking Outward; and Looking Ahead.
Each chapter begins with a bulleted list of learning outcomes and a brief introduction, which serves to illustrate the chapter with real world examples, such as the comparison between a vibrant and diverse food economy in Center City, Philadelphia and the “deserts” of its disadvantaged neighborhoods (Chapter 3); a child’s improved health after moving into an apartment renovated using green and healthy housing principles (Chapter 11); and the residents of El Sereno, California, and their successful advocacy for the development of a twenty-acre park (Chapter 19).
The book is an extensive, sometimes exhausting, overview of many related topics. The challenges it presents are sobering. The solutions it envisions are exciting. Landscape architecture is present throughout. Some may find it a “heavy lift” given its length and, in some instances, highly technical nature. But it is all there, providing landscape architects, architects, and planners with tools and strategies to think about how the built environment impacts our physical, mental, social, environmental, and economic well-being.
This guest post is by Mark A. Focht, FASLA, First Deputy Commissioner, Parks & Facilities, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
Image credit: Island Press