Creating Healthy Places

NPC17 attendee
APA member
List Price
Group viewing

You'll learn about:

  • Appreciate how to use a new APA Planners Press resource, Creating Healthy Neighborhoods, in specific communities.

  • Update knowledge about key connections between health and neighborhood planning using recent research.

  • Understand how the process of planning neighborhoods, as well as the substance, is shaped by a health lens.

  • Develop a better grasp of domains in which health and place are connected but that have not been researched, and how to fill those gaps with guidance based on conceptual frameworks about how health and place are related.

Planners, designers, civic leaders, and activists seeking to change existing neighborhoods and districts or to revise proposals to make them healthier face a complex challenge. They need to consider a variety of topics relevant to health — from air quality to social interaction — and scales, from the blocks that make up the district to the town or city they are embedded in. They also need to know the limits of how much the physical neighborhood environment can affect health. How much does a place matter compared with other sources of health and healthy behaviors from biology to culture? Healthy built environments are as much about how a place is used, maintained, and priced as they are about physical development and redevelopment. Policies matter. A beautiful play area that is too expensive to use is a visual amenity only. This session helps planners, urban designers, activists, and public officials gain access to and assess the most recent evidence base on healthy places.

Making the leap from research to action can be tricky, however. There are three main reasons:

  • In some topical areas there is a great deal of research that needs to be evaluated. Unfortunately it is often highly specific, requiring much sorting and analysis to find the big picture. This is the case even when only considering one scale, that of the neighborhood or district of a few hundred to a few thousand people or few hectares to a few hundred hectares or acres. While there may be summaries of the research they do not necessarily specify actions.

  • In addition, there will never be research on everything of importance as there is so much environmental variation so some kind of bridge is needed between theory and practice.

  • Finally, much work on the connections between health and place focuses on the substance of the connections between health and the built environments. To actually make change to places requires knowledge of both — process and substance. Further, the process is complex from prioritizing health issues and engaging stakeholders to finding the right tools for incorporating health into plans and programs.

This session explains how the handbook, Creating Healthy Neighborhoods, bridges this gap by doing three things: synthesizing and adapting research findings, proposing how to make informed decisions in the absence of research, and embedding this in a health-informed planning process. 

About the Speakers

Ann Forsyth
Trained in planning and architecture, Ann Forsyth is a professor of urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Forsyth works mainly on the social aspects of physical planning and urban development. The big issue behind her research and practice is how to make more sustainable and healthy cities. Forsyth’s contributions have been to analyze the success of planned alternatives to sprawl, particularly exploring the tensions between social and ecological values in urban design. She is author or co-author of five books and over 180 refereed and magazine articles, chapters, monographs, and book reviews. She has won over sixty awards, citations, named lectureships, and fellowships for individual and collaborative professional and research work.

Emily Salomon
Emily Salomon is an associate housing planner with the City of Cambridge, MA., where she administers the City's affordable rental and homeownership programs. Prior to joining the City of Cambridge, Salomon was a research associate with the Health and Places Initiative at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), where she specialized in communications. She has previously worked on the connections between affordable housing, land use, and transportation policy, and affordable housing for older adults with the Center for Housing Policy in Washington, DC. At the Housing Partnership Network, she managed a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development housing counseling grant program. Salomon was involved in the Leadership for Healthy Communities program at the International City and County Management Association (ICMA), focused on local government policies to promote food access and physical activity through community design. She has a Masters Degree in Community Development and Planning from Clark University.

Laura Smead
Laura Smead was a research associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design for two projects: the Waste-to-Energy Design Lab and Health and Places Initiative. The Health and Places Initiative’s urban planning team sought to interpret and explain in a straightforward way what science and urban planning has to say about creating healthy places, and provide practical, evidence-based guidelines for urban planners at a neighborhood scale. Her contributions include being the primary author of research briefs on health and place, contributing to the development of a new suite of health impact assessment tools for planners, and co-authoring a guidelines book on creating healthy neighborhoods. With master’s degrees in both in urban planning and psychology, Ms. Smead has specialized knowledge on health, aging, climate change, and sustainable urban planning. Laura Smead is currently the Town Planner for Canton, Massachusetts where she is collaboratively shaping her local community to be more healthy, livable, and sustainable.