Our cities, neighbourhoods and buildings play a key role in our wellbeing – or lack thereof. The Global Wellness Institute’s first Wellness Policy Toolkit addresses how our everyday environments can get us moving.
Global health challenges – and their associated economic burdens – are escalating. To guide public policymakers in addressing these issues, the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) has released the Wellness Policy Series (WPS), which emphasizes the importance of embracing preventive measures and promoting healthy lifestyles.
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Guiding people to use Barcelona’s urban space in different ways, Arauna Studio’s ‘tactical urbanism’ intervention is a graphic street takeover.
The GWI qualifies its use of the term ‘policy’. ‘The implication is that we are speaking to governments, but this series is not just for government stakeholders. Policies to advance the cause of wellness for all require the attention, participation, and cooperation of public, private, and nonprofit/community stakeholders.’ In other words, designers and others involved in creating the built environment should take notice, too.
Our built environment discourages physical activity
This recap focuses on the Wellness Policy Toolkit: Physical Activity (April 2023), the first of seven GWI toolkits that form part of the wider WPS, a compilation of nine reports. The GWI describes three levels at which public policies can be formulated to shape our wellness, which the institute defines as ‘the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health’.
– Micro-level wellness policy: Encouraging individuals to proactively make healthy choices, establish healthy habits, and live healthy lifestyles.
– Meso-level wellness policy: Creating living environments that support and encourage healthy behaviors and lifestyles.
– Macro-level policy: Reshaping all policies related to our wider society and economy, with the aim of improving human health and well-being.
Cover and above: Xisui Design’s Red Dunes Playtopia in Guangzhou offers a whimsical space for children to explore within a residential area.
This recap will extract the points most relevant to the conceptualization and design of physical environments, which primarily fall under the meso-level category.
One of the key gaps and constraints leading to physical inactivity, argues the GWI, is that our modern built environment discourages physical activity. ‘For far too long, the design of cities, neighborhoods, and buildings has been driven by efficiency and convenience, with little regard to how such priorities encourage sedentary behavior and have adverse impacts on our health and resilience’.
Movement should be a default in daily life
The directive to those involved in urban planning, transportation, infrastructure and housing is to ‘help people be physically active by designing and building . . . in a way that makes movement a default in daily life’.
Key approaches, believes the GWI, include ‘“complete street” design (e.g., wide sidewalks, accessible crosswalks, pedestrian signals, narrower vehicle lanes, separated bike lanes); attractive and people-friendly streetscapes (e.g., street/shade trees, lighting, benches, wayfinding signs); and movement-friendly urban planning and zoning (e.g., higher density buildings, mixed-use development). Examples and best practices of how communities have improved walkability and bikeability exist across every country and region around the world. These features help add natural movement back into daily life and can go a long way towards helping people meet the daily requirement of moderate physical activity.’ There may be good examples out there, but the GWI highlights the current lack of such initiatives, citing a WHO report that reveals only 42 per cent of countries have a national policy (and only 15 per cent have subnational/regional policies) to encourage walking and cycling as transport.
Designed by Studio Modijefsky, the ‘Connectors’ in Booking.com‘s Amsterdam HQ are populated by playful, movement-encouraging equipment for exercise.
On a smaller scale, real-estate developments and individual buildings can encourage physical movement through walking/cycling paths (indoors and out), swimming pools, recreation centres, exercise facilities, parks, playgrounds, bike parking/storage and more. ‘The more these features are convenient and are located right within people’s homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces, the more likely people will access them regularly to be active. Interior design features that encourage movement include attractive and well-located stairways (and signage) that steer people away from elevators, as well as attractive and accessible common areas, corridors, and amenities that encourage circulation and walking from place-to-place.’
Public versus private
Where does public policy cross over with real-estate developments and buildings, which are typically part of the private sector? Beyond zoning, building codes and land use regulations, the GWI asserts that governments can lead by example by ‘incorporating active design features into publicly funded facilities (including schools, government agencies, hospitals, military installations, parks/recreation/tourism facilities, prisons, etc.). The public sector also has a critical role to play in encouraging the use of active design in affordable/subsidized housing, schools, and community facilities in underserved and high-risk areas. This can be accomplished via partnerships among municipal and public housing authorities, nonprofits, and private developers, as well as via incentive programs for developers.’
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