Architecture and planning for wellness


PHYSICAL design affects human behavior at all scales—buildings, neighborhoods, communities, and regions. The places in which we live, work, and play can affect both our mental and physical well-being.”
–10 Principles for Building Healthy Places, ULI Report 2013

Filipinos are being stressed out by our overdue transportation infrastructure update, our daily commutes to work that sap our free time, energy, and patience, and the lack of actively-designed buildings that only extend our frustrations. A 2014 Sun Life Asia research covering major Asia-Pacific markets conducted on middle-income Asians aged 25 and 55, has observed the emergence of a Generation O: Overworked, Overweight, and Overwhelmed.

According to the Filipino respondents, the lack of health-related activities due to work, lack of motivation, and technology-induced distractions are what’s causing their bad health. Plus, they cannot fit in sports and recreational facilities and activities in their work/life balance schedules.

Wellness in architecture, planning, and development is a comprehensive discipline, since it requires knowing about the sociology, demography, and melding those with the basic principles of architecture and design. In 2013, the ULI launched the Building Healthy Places Initiative to promote and shape projects and places that improve the health of people and communities. The two-year program has managed to come up with new publications that explore the principles and value of building healthy places, and how architecture, planning, urban design, and development can contribute to living environments.

Principles for healthy places
One of the recent publications based on the ULI-launched Initiative is Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places. These principles foster active living based on the recommendations of a multi-disciplinary workshop by ULI. These principles are:

1. Put people first. For decades, planners and developers have designed places for cars rather than people. This principle proposes to integrate design strategies that minimize our dependence to the automobile in the planning process to encourage healthy living.

2. Recognize the economic value. Compact, mixed-use developments provide economic benefits to developers through higher property values, marketability, and quicker sales and leasing, especially among baby boomers and millennials.

3. Empower champions for health. Community engagement is seen as a powerful vehicle to bring lasting changes that improve the health of a community and its residents. A shared vision, backed by passionate and respected leaders are crucial in making this work.

4. Energize shared spaces. Places with high levels of social isolation has been known to correlate with declines in well-being and lead to higher health costs. Humans are social creatures, and a community that engages and provides spaces that allow public gathering can do wonders to a community.

5. Make healthy choices easy. Communities should be SAFE: safe, accessible, fun, and easy. This is something Filipinos are looking for in our cities, evidenced by our poor street design and lack of pedestrian sidewalks that should encourage such simple (but necessary) activities.

6. Ensure equitable access. All age groups, abilities, and incomes should benefit from better access to services, amenities, and opportunities. A universal design principle should be followed and should integrate land use and transit.

7. Mix it up. Mixed-use developments provide an array of physical activities and functional services and amenities to mixed-income residents. One of our first and landmark projects, the Rockwell Center, is a testament to this, where residents and users are given a variety of urban transportation options.

8. Embrace unique character. In Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group, we make sure our projects are unique, memorable, and identifiable. This can be done by rediscovering a city/community’s asset, integrating its natural systems, and use it to champion developments.

9. Promote access to healthy food. As much as possible,, I make sure that the food I eat are locally-produced / sourced. By cutting down travel time and distance between food grown by farmers to consumer, you are already helping the environment.

10. Make it active. Urban Design should be used to create an active community. Actively-designed transportation amenities should be put into place alongside active-living guidelines and flexible enough to cater to all age groups and incomes.

These ULI reports are available online for anyone to download and learn from.What is interesting is that for both research studies, there is a knowledge gap between research and implementation to show how our built environment relates to our health. Winston Churchill once said,“We shape our environment, and thereafter it shapes us.” As architects, planners, designers, developers and engineers, we can help influence a healthier future for the Filipinos by using these principles in creating built environments.

(NEXT WEEK: Wellness and walking the talk)


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