17 Dec 2020 COVID-19 has highlighted our need for a healthier place
A summary post of the Place Alliance Report, October 2020.
The Coronavirus Crisis (2019) has highlighted many things: from food poverty, living standards, our need for social support and importantly, our need for a healthy place. We need accessible, lively spaces which support our mental, physical, and social wellbeing whilst also building resilience. In October 2020, the Place Alliance produced a report which outlined “How the design of our homes and neighbourhoods affected our experience of the COVID-19 lockdown and what we can learn for the future”. This blog post is a summary of the findings of the Place Alliance Report that outline the key living conditions that contribute towards our health and wellbeing. These findings are relevant for the Healthier Place, Healthier Future project as the project works with system leaders, planners, businesses, and communities to develop positive food habits, active lifestyles and a better health and wellbeing. The full report can be found and read here.
“COVID is an opportunity – There is a strong desire to use the crisis of COVID to deliver better environment standards and clear long-term health and quality of life benefits through a permanent switch in modes of travel, a material change in the quality of streets and open spaces, and a safer and more pleasant environment (p3).”
The Place Alliance national survey collected responses from around 2500 households (representing around 7,200 people) across the UK which asked about you, your homes, your community, and your neighbourhood during lockdown. Findings suggested that residents felt more comfortable with a greater sense of community when they had amenities such as private gardens or access to open space, living in larger spaces with lower noises and access to amenities within 10 minutes’ walk. The study found no difference between urban and rural inhabitants.
Parks and green space are fundamental
Residents who lived within ten minutes distance of a park of green spaces reported to feel more comfortable. Increased access to parks and green space offers opportunities for residents to be able to exercise in a safe environment, in which green spaces also offer benefits for mental health. This suggests that in design of neighbourhoods and assessment of homes, the proximity of green or blue space should be considered as a factor to the residents’ wellbeing.
The importance of community
The study recognised how online social platforms facilitated a greater sense of community and connected networks. COVID-19 has not only highlighted issues with our physical health and rising inequalities, but also has had serious effects on our mental health. Well-designed buildings and neighbourhoods can support community connections, from shared green spaces to public amenities. It must be noted here that not all communities during the lockdown have benefitted, with some areas having poor Wi-Fi or no access to internet-enabled devices, this must be accounted for when looking at inequalities in neighbourhood and housing design.
What do the findings suggest about a healthier place?
Some of the key findings in the report support the need for a healthier place. For example, those who had more space, in houses rather than high rise and smaller flats, felt more comfortable. There is research that suggests the context of living conditions and the above-mentioned factors affect health inequalities and the spread of infection. Residents living in social-rented, cramped flats with no access to green space had higher levels of COVID-19 cases than more affluent areas. Those with access to private, open space such as balconies or gardens also reported to feel more comfortable. Further, residents were happier who were within ten minutes’ walk to local facilities, where space was allocated for walking and cycling on quieter streets. Many temporary interventions have been developed to allow greater access for those who are choosing cycling and walking as their COVID-safe methods of transport and for leisure. It remains a question as to whether these interventions will become permanent, yet many citizens have adapted to and enjoyed the increased accessibility to public space, safer routes for cycling and walking and restricted movement of cars in high density living areas.
Why COVID-19 has presented an opportunity for neighbourhood design and planning
The Place Alliance Report highlights how COVID-19 has presented a golden for our planners to design cities, towns, neighbourhoods, and rural areas to support better living standards. This, in return, promotes healthier lifestyles and more resilient environments. Strategies such as this work on a preventative measure, building up nation-wide health to mitigate the exponential effects of any further health and environmental emergencies we may experience in the future. We have experienced a complete transformation in our lives this year, in which we can now implement a bold and ambitious change within our communities to support a healthier place.
How can you support the need for a healthier space?
- Write to your council to support a cycle-powered COVID-19 recovery.
- Read the national guide to healthy spaces and spaces.
- Read the Design Council’s research on creating a healthy place.
- Campaign for a better place through schemes such as the Sustainable Food Places Award, Save Our Spaces and the Place Alliance Campaigns.