COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Research: The Case for Healthy Places

Dec 7, 2016
Oct 9, 2019

The Case for Healthy Places Action Pack: Download the full report, as well as a booklet and poster summarizing key findings and recommendations.

A growing body of research over the last several decades has shown the connections between “place” and health, and it is well documented that a person’s zip code can be a more reliable determinant of health than their genetic code.

Today, PPS is proud to release The Case for Healthy Places—a report of peer-reviewed research that offers evidence-based guidance, recommendations, and case studies to which health institutions, community organizations, and other partners can refer in order to create and support healthy placemaking initiatives. Produced with generous support from Kaiser Permanente and Anne T. and Robert Bass, this important study focuses on five key areas: Social Support & Interaction; Play & Active Recreation; Green & Natural Environments; Healthy Food; and Walking & Biking. The final chapter addresses health care institutions, detailing ways in which they can take action to become placemaking champions in the communities they serve.

‍NYC Playgrounds, The Trust for Public Land | Photo by Seth Sherman
“It has been a delight to witness the decades-long contribution of Project for Public Spaces to measurably improving the health and vitality of communities across the United States and around the world. And it has been a distinct pleasure to work with and sponsor the team behind this report, as they bridge a ‘field of fields,’ ranging from equitable community development, to housing design and land use planning, to health and well being.”  -Tyler Norris, Vice President, Kaiser Permanente

From obesity and chronic disease to depression, social isolation, or increased exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants, communities around the world face pressing health challenges that are much different than those we’ve experienced in the past. “To address the real health challenges of the 21st century,” explains PPS President and Founder Fred Kent, “we need innovative solutions that look not only at the physical causes and symptoms of poor health, but also the social, economic, and environmental components of total well-being.”

Many studies have explored how differences in the design and function of low and high-income neighborhoods contribute to health disparities. Research shows that low-income groups and racial and ethnic minorities have more limited access to well-maintained parks or safe recreational facilities, and that low-income urban neighborhoods are more likely to lack features that support walking, such as clean and well-maintained sidewalks, trees, and attractive scenery. These areas are also significantly more likely to lack access to supermarkets and places to obtain healthy, fresh food. With these inequities in mind, this timely report shows how placemaking projects can address all kinds of health disparities, while also generating a host of other positive community outcomes such as increased social capital, opportunities for civic engagement, local economic development, and improved safety and crime reduction.

Healing herb tour at Sustainable Flatbush Community Garden | Healing herb tour at Sustainable Flatbush Community Garden in Brooklyn, NY | Photo by Keka Marzagão

This report uses placemaking as a holistic framework for creating healthy communities. As both an overarching idea and a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region, placemaking is a collaborative process for reshaping the public realm—a community’s streets, parks and other public spaces—in order to maximize shared value. The exciting projects and case studies highlighted in the study run the gamut from farmers markets, community gardens, and public plazas, to efforts to make streets more amenable to pedestrians and bicyclists.

As Tyler Norris explains in the document's forward, “Placemaking is one of the most powerful things we can do to address physical and mental health as well as revitalize democracy and add more conviviality to our lives. It supplies us with a sense of belonging, which creates resilience and well-being, according to scientific evidence.”

The full report is available here!

But this is just the beginning of the Healthy Placemaking movement! Please stay tuned over the next 12 months as PPS will continue to highlight the findings and recommendations embedded in this extensive study through a series of topical webinars, conferences, and strategic engagements with placemaking partners and allies.

Healthy Places Webinar

The Role of Social Interaction & Support


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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space