Inclusive Healthy Places

Photo credit: Steven Johnson

How do we know when public space supports health, and when processes that shape public spaces are inclusive? Despite the growing evidence connecting place and health, design and physical activity, the natural environment and mental well-being, and more, there are few available resources to help planners and policymakers identify the kind of real evidence that is needed to help make decisions and fund public space projects that promote individual and community health and well-being. Similarly, though inclusion as a concept is well-discussed, there is no clear, shared working definition that can be tested and measured in design and public health practice.

To bridge these gaps, Gehl Institute, with generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) developed the Inclusive Healthy Places Framework as a tool for evaluating and creating inclusive, healthy public places that support health equity.

Great public spaces allow for healthy public life—for social interactions both planned and spontaneous on sidewalks or at bus stops, in parks, at street fairs, urban plazas, and outdoor concerts, and around public art installations. They can help unite us, and they can create and support opportunities for good individual health and well-being. Public spaces that invite use stimulate our minds and bodies; they invite creativity and activity. With thoughtful planning, design, cultivation, and activation, public spaces can play an important role in fostering healthier, more equitable communities. And this is a process that can and should originate from the ground up; great public spaces reflect what’s already there and who’s already there. They’re built through an inclusive process and sustained by an engaged community.

However, not all public spaces are created or maintained equally or equitably. Nor are the neighborhoods, towns, or cities that surround them. In fact, health disparities and inequities often are correlated with such factors as limited access to and low quality of available public spaces, as well as lesser degrees of representation and participation in the process of shaping and maintaining public spaces.

We hope that our new Framework will help you to create inclusive healthy places in your own community, or to develop new thinking about how to make such places.

Get started in your community or research! We invite you to check out the Framework, test it, and tell us about your experience. Email your questions and feedback to health@gehlinstitute.org, or share on social using #InclusiveHealthyPlaces.

We know that this work is far from complete, and that there is still a great deal to learn as we travel this road toward inclusive, healthy places, together. Collaborate with us.