Inclusive Healthy Places

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 developed the Inclusive Healthy Places Framework as a tool for evaluating and creating inclusive, healthy public places that support health equity. Download the report here.

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. 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, 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.

Watch a short video from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s on Inclusive Healthy Places below.

About the Report


The Framework and supporting analysis presented in the Inclusive Healthy Places report and on this site represent a synthesis of research and expertise in public health and urban planning and design, with specific focus on the social determinants of health that can be viewed clearly through the lens of public space.

The Guiding Principles of Inclusive Healthy Places introduced in the report and Framework outline four distinct but interrelated areas in which public space intersects with health equity and inclusion:

Principle 1

Recognize community context by cultivating knowledge of the existing conditions, assets, and lived experiences that relate to health equity.

Principle 2

Support inclusion in the processes that shape public space by promoting civic trust, participation, and social capital.

Principle 3

Design and program public space for health equity by improving quality, enhancing access and safety, and inviting diversity.

Principle 4

Foster social resilience and capacity of local communities to engage with changes in place over time by promoting representation, agency, and stability.

Read More!

Photo credit: Steven Johnson

Contribute Your Work and Ideas

We’re gathering examples of Inclusive Healthy Places. Have a place or project for us to highlight? Let us know! Contact us via email at or on social using #InclusiveHealthyPlaces.

Contact Us!

Photo credit: Jennifer Gardner

Our Research Process


The Inclusive Healthy Places Framework was developed through an 18-month long, multi-method research process that included:

  • Deep review of literature on placemaking, planning, health, and inclusion
  • Interviews with US-based and international practitioners whose work sits at the intersection of public health and public space
  • Review of existing global practices at the intersection of inclusion, health, and place
  • Creation of shared experiences of strategies and tactics to promote inclusion in public space plans, projects, and processes with workshops and study tours in Philadelphia, Copenhagen, Malmö, Coimbra (Portugal), and Newark, NJ. 
  • Definition of terms and guiding principles to shape a common language of “inclusive healthy place” for practitioners across fields
  • – Comparison of over 50 existing frameworks for evaluating aspects of place, health, and inclusion in the built environment

Photo credit: Jennifer Gardner