Salus journal

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Cities / Healthy Cities

SALUS guide promotes ecosystem approach to planning healthy communities

By Andrew Sansom 18 Oct 2022 0

A new report sets out a number of evidence-based guiding principles for designing, planning and implementing a new healthy and sustainable community in Canada, with many of the lessons applicable to urban design and health planning more broadly.

Produced by SALUS Global Knowledge Exchange and commissioned by Dorsay Development Corporation, a Toronto-based real estate and development company, the report applies research thinking on health creation and planetary health to support the vision, planning and implementation of Veraine, a proposed new community in the north-east of the City of Pickering, Ontario, Canada.

SALUS’ founder and project director for the report, Marc Sansom, commented: “The report sets out how Veraine has an opportunity to set a global benchmark for a future community that is healthy, sustainable, equitable, and a place where everyone can flourish. To achieve this vision, this report calls for a co-ordinated interdisciplinary effort across a range of areas – from policymaking, governance and investment to planning and design.”

The report is intended for a broad group, including policymakers, municipal authorities, civil society bodies, landowners and real estate developers, built environment consultants, public health/healthcare, and environmentalist groups.

With lessons to be drawn for any new community development, the guide sets out a framework for understanding how a healthy and sustainable community can be planned and implemented using an ‘ecosystem’ approach that will provide the resources, capabilities, meaning and purpose in the lives of citizens, to enable them and the community as a whole to flourish.

SALUS associate and a co-author Mario Bozzo described how the report brings “a refreshing global perspective to addressing the challenges and opportunities facing the real estate industry in the Greater Toronto area”. He added: “The report provides examples of how the built environment and health sectors can work more closely at implementation level to achieve better designed communities that support people to thrive and lead healthier lives.”

Chapters include: ‘An ecosystem approach to healthy communities’; ‘Evaluating health outcomes and goals’; ‘Visioning demand for healthy living’; and ‘Planning, activating and operating’. Readers will learn how a collective, ecosystem approach can make Veraine a healthier and more sustainable place in which its citizens can live, work and flourish, identifying key questions such as:

  • How do we reconcile economic prosperity with the preservation of the natural planetary systems that sustain life?
  • What urban development, regeneration and mobility strategies would enable us to flourish in harmony with nature?
  • How can the design of our homes, neighbourhoods, workplaces and transportation better support community cohesion, mental health, and social equity?

The guiding principles are further developed through SALUS’ own applied research evaluation of 20 global planning frameworks and 400 individual concepts of health, which establishes a set of priorities for health creation and planetary health.

SALUS associate and lead researcher Mark Drane commented: “These evidence-informed and practice-oriented principles were developed from a review of existing healthy placemaking frameworks. This review informed the need to go beyond technical solutions and integrate research and practice values, such as health equity. The scale of challenges around planetary and population health are immense. This report therefore had to aim high in ambition at the same time as, and setting out practical approaches to, delivering on health creation for the future population.”

A combination of expert insights from SALUS’ network of leading researchers and practitioners, and seven global exemplars of community developments, projects and technologies also informs readers of the latest scientific thinking and the practical challenges of implementing healthy communities.

The global exemplars do not provide a prescription for how to design and plan a healthy community, but they all provide important insights and lessons on how community groups, investors, policymakers, and practitioners can work collectively towards creating health for people and planet. Equally, the insights from SALUS’ expert network can inform the ecosystem approach through years of knowledge development informed by both research and personal experience of designing, planning and working with cities and communities.

In its conclusion, the report summarises the key messages of the report, discusses its limitations and explores the next steps. In particular, consideration is given to how social and economic changes in response to the planetary health crisis and acceleration of the drive for clean energy, alongside other technological advances, are reshaping the world with implications for the way we design communities.

The report, ‘Guiding principles for planning healthy communities’, is available to download here.