Healthy places: when buildings alone aren’t enough

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We’ve known for some time that our home and office environments affect not just our emotional wellbeing but our physical health too. Now we’re realising that not only are our buildings important for our health – the fabric of the area surrounding them is vitally important too.


Beyond your “four walls”

In an age where we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, it’s essential to consider the wellness component of any building. Research is constantly pointing out how design elements such as daylighting and fresh air can increase productivity, the sense of wellbeing, and even slash sick leave.

What is perhaps new is the idea that the neighbourhood surrounding someone’s home and office is equally important to their happiness and health. The UK-GBC realised this a few years ago when it identified over 20 neighbourhood factors that affect our health and wellbeing – ranging from the presence of hospitals and GP surgeries to fitness centres and vegetable gardens.

The Neighbourhood Effect

Research like this tells us that developers must adopt a people first-philosophy to designing areas. To live full lives people need places which integrate work, social, leisure, fitness and other lifestyle activities. Thankfully, we’re starting to see more progressive developers go down this path.

‘Green’ and ‘healthy’ are central to British Land’s £2bn Canada Water scheme in East London. Among many other features, the area will include pedestrian zones, a new park, a fitness centre, waterside areas plus seamless ‘green’ links and safe connections for walkers and cyclists.

Lendlease is taking a similar tack at Elephant Park, one of London’s biggest regeneration projects. Here a range of ‘healthy homes’ will be built with non-toxic materials and from designs that offer residents an abundance of fresh air and natural light.  Another highlight of Elephant Park is the communal grow gardens which give residents the chance to cultivate fruit, vegetables and herbs by working with their neighbours.

The public sector isn’t exactly twiddling its thumbs, either. Through an innovative program called Healthy New Towns, the UK’s National Health Service is working with housing developments across the UK to create healthier places. In Bicester, one of the Healthy Towns currently underway , the vision is to create a place where healthy living comes as standard. Getting people moving and keeping them healthy should be easy with 40% green space, abundant pedestrian and cycle networks, a focus on street safety and new integrated healthcare service models such as patient-activated technologies.

Lots of guidance, not enough action

For developers unsure of where to start there’s a growing list of standards to draw from, including the ULI’s “Building Healthy Places Toolkit” and Public Health England’s “Spatial Planning for Health”. In fact the International WELL Building Institute™ has just started piloting a new WELL Community Standard™, which is an urban-scale companion to its global WELL Building Standard™.  With all this guidance, there’s no real excuse for inaction.

Fresh thinking for modern times

Through building for people and focusing on the area as a whole rather than the individual buildings, the real estate industry can put a serious dent in modern urban challenges and health issues such as stress, obesity, depression, and isolation. We’re at the start of this shift in mindset but it’s still a long way from being the norm.

This articles was compiled by Emilija Emma and edited by Laura Jockers in JLL’s Upstream Sustainability Team.

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