What Placemaking and Wellbeing can really mean for real estate

The push for us all to embrace ‘wellbeing’ is very much on people’s lips, particularly given the current economic climate, let alone the delights of a European winter. But what does it really mean, and how can it be incorporated into what, how and where we build?

Modern methods of construction, innovative solutions to water systems and air quality are becoming the norm for the more advanced, inspired developers, and construction sites are fast becoming efficient places of compilation of precision engineering. So how we build our property is, in many places, already responding to ethical, social and sustainable demands.

And, so it should. After all, there is an exponential growth of research that addresses how our physical and mental health challenges can be helped, at least in part, by well designed, ventilated and located property. It’s all about, making and shaping our places at every conceivable scale. Be this at the local neighbourhood level and the provision of suitable community services, or the urban expansion and new settlement level, where infrastructure and the provision of effective, well maintained open space can be the difference between success and failure.

The needs of our ageing communities, the nature of how we work, and how we are embracing a carbon zero economy, are key factors influencing how we create positive places and embed environmental, economic and social value.

Physical inactivity is said to be responsible for 1 in 6 deaths in the UK, and 40k deaths per year relate to poor air quality. These numbers and the impact of an urban environment on mental health, are serious issues. They equate to a cost to the economy, in terms of lost working days and health care, of circa £7.4 bn in the UK alone. Regular physical activity helps to prevent obesity and reduces the risk of many chronic conditions. So, if that activity can be designed into our environment at the outset at a viable cost, rather than be expensively retrofitted, then what’s not to like?

Development is already embracing the ethos of ‘healthy design’ through a range of measures, including active street frontages to counter a fear of crime and encourage walking or cycling rather than reliance on private cars. Bland street scenes do not induce positive thinking but clever architectural detail and use of sustainable materials, well-located green spaces and effective landscaping can improve our interest and improve mental health through supporting social engagement with others. Every little helps.

Emerging standards for workplaces advocate simple yet effective approaches such as having access and views to green spaces – to improve attention spans and neurone activity. Offices across the country are adopting this approach. There are great examples of successful design, such as at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus – regularly used as case examples of good practice.

And, increasingly, the most successful residential schemes adopt a true people-centric approach, as reflected by the winners from recent years of the National Housing Design Awards. The ability to provide safe, sustainable, warm, energy efficient homes in places where human interaction can take place, where there is access to good public transport, can be showstoppers for the right reasons. The public sector scheme around Goldsmith Street, Norwich reflects fabulous social interaction with accommodation that is both attractive, effective and viable – it can be done!

Work of bodies such as The Land Trust, across the UK, support viable maintenance of green spaces in and around new settlements that do more than just enhance biodiversity. They also bring communities together and improve social interaction while embedding a sense of collective ownership for residents. For too long, housing schemes across the country have been uninspiring. While profitable, and hence attractive to shareholders of major residential development companies, helpfully the need to address social value in all its forms is very much becoming part of the decision-making process.

So, long may the plethora of advisory papers, government guidance and professional insight be used by professionals across the built environment, from planners & designers, surveyors & engineers to construction managers, investors & management agents. All need to play a part and be guided by the likes of; UKGov’s Design Charter, Active by Design, the WHO’s Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments, Healthy People, Healthy Places, Sport England’s Active Design, Manual for Streets, NHS England’s Healthy New Towns programme, and the TCPS’s ‘State of the Union’ and ‘Putting Health into Place’ papers, to mention just a handful.

It might sound like common sense but sometimes, a bit like stating the obvious over our insatiable use of plastic, common sense needs spelling out in BIG LETTERS. And, when embraced, it makes business sense!


Louise Brooke-Smith speaks on MIPIM’s “”The role of Real Estate in improving health” session https://www.mipim.com/en/Sessions/83537/The-role-of-Real-Estate-in-improving-health

Top Image: Getty Images – JulieanneBirch

About Author

Louise is a Chartered Surveyor and Chartered Town Planner with experience drawn, over 30 years, from the UK and overseas. As a Director of Consilio Strategic Consultancy Ltd., she advises a range of international investors & developers and is a well respected commentator on built environment issues and an experienced public speaker. Formerly an Equity Partner of Arcadis LLP (Global Consultancy for the Built Environment) where she was UK Head of Development & Strategic Planning, and Head of Social Value, Louise continues to advise the company as a Strategic Consultant providing strategic development advice for a range of clients from both the public and private sectors.

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