How to design communities that make residents fitter and healthier

The design of neighbourhoods, offices and green spaces can help to encourage physical activity and combat obesity

Parks health housing

The obesity epidemic is a huge and growing issue for the UK. A recent parliamentary report shows most physical activity occurs during everyday activities within the built environment, rather than during leisure or sport.

The design of neighbourhoods, towns and green spaces is critical to increasing physical activity. But, how would this work?

Every community will have a different answer, but principally they need to increase opportunities for active travel, encourage active movement in buildings such as schools and offices, and improve quality and consistency of routes for residents.

This will help communities to reach good quality, well-designed open spaces with access to local public facilities such as healthcare. However, unfortunately not all British neighbourhoods have these basic components in place.

One of the key findings from Cabe’s report is that green space is a public resource with a proven track record in improving people’s physical and mental health, but too many local green spaces remain unused.

The response we at the Design Council have come up with is the Active by Design programme, developed by identifying simple and practical solutions. Local people are best placed to know what they want from the spaces around them so rather than imposing solutions, the key part of the programme is understanding what works and why for the community that lives there. Allowing councillors, local authorities and residents to exchange views is a vital starting point in establishing priorities and to spending budgets as effectively as possible.

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