Our efforts to build health and happiness into communities is evident in our design, we call these our Wellbeing Principles. As you will see these seven principles are rooted in our design strategy which addresses several of our Wellbeing Principles. To see these connections, look for these symbols:
Healthy places enable, encourage, and reward healthy choices and active mobility.
Urban design directly influences people’s health outcomes and feelings by mediating our exposure to risks, pollutants, and physical danger. But it also leads us to sickness or health by nudging us towards more active or passive forms of mobility and by mediating the frequency and quality of our social interactions. These factors have a direct impact on heart health, stress indicators, and life expectancy.
Public health researchers have noted that we can fight the toxic effects of sedentary living by reducing the amount of time people spend sitting. That means creating mixed-use places where people can walk or bike from home to key destinations. It means ensuring that streets and public spaces give privilege to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users so these ways of moving are convenient and pleasurable. Urban places have a strong influence on what people eat by providing healthy food choices within reach of a short walk.
Maximize the pleasure and minimize the pain of urban experience.
Urban life can deliver both pleasurable and painful experiences, with wellbeing effects that last far beyond the moment. That’s because most people’s happiness is determined not just by what they are experiencing in any given moment, but also by memories of previous good and bad incidents. Extreme highs and lows have a disproportional impact on our memories and our feelings. So it is important to reduce exposure to garbage, graffiti, and dangerous traffic, which produce feelings of alienation and depression, especially among the elderly.
Designers and urban planners can foster joyful experiences. People are attracted to novelty, to new sights and sounds that surprise and delight us. Public art and leisure attractions can draw people to places through more hours of the day. Additionally, most of us experience our greatest moments of joy when interacting with other people. Unique events and happenings that leverage the talents and passions of local communities spark moments of delight and help build a sense of community.
Promote positive relationships and facilitate trust-building encounters among residents, tenants, customers and other visitors.
After core needs are met, social relationships are the most powerful driver of human health and wellbeing. People with strong, positive relationships are healthier. They live, on average, 15 years longer than people who are socially isolated. The power of social trust goes beyond relationships with family and close friends: cities and societies in which people express high levels of trust in neighbours and strangers are happier. Superficial, trust-building encounters in public raise people’s spirits as much as time with close friends.
It is crucial to build public spaces that draw people into trust-building encounters rather than conflict. Car drivers report the most incidence of incivility of any commuters. Walkable places can promote the sorts of face-to-face encounters that boost social trust, creativity, and enduring relationships.
While social contact is important, people also need the ability to moderate their interactions with other people, or they will retreat. It is important to reduce involuntary crowding and create places that offer people a broad spectrum of opportunities for social contact.
Enable tenants, visitors and residents to build a greater sense of meaning and belonging.
Psychological wellbeing is about much more than contentment or pleasure. It involves feeling that our lives matter, that what we do has meaning, that we have the ability to change our world, and that our relationships with other people are positive and impactful.
Great communities create stronger feelings of meaning and belonging by fostering strong attachment to place. Top drivers of place attachment include: social offerings, or places for entertainment or social encounters; openness, or how welcoming the place feels to all people; and aesthetics, or the physical beauty of the community.
There’s a direct correlation between place attachment and local GDP growth. When residents appreciate their community’s offerings, they are more likely to spend their money on local activities and businesses. So building vibrant, beautiful, and social places is good for wellbeing as well as for business.
Encourage the ecological, economic and cultural diversity that help communities and places stay strong over the long term.
Place wellbeing relies on systems that allow communities to adapt, respond, recover, and thrive creatively and collaboratively in the face of social, economic, and environmental change.
We can build resilience by harnessing the power of natural systems of sunlight, rain, and nature, by ensuring that buildings and infrastructure can adapt to changing needs over time, and by diversifying the kinds of tenants and customers that places serve. In short, more diverse neighbourhoods, ecosystems, economies, and social systems are better able to respond to disruptions or change.
We also need to acknowledge that in an interconnected world, authentic happiness means considering the wellbeing of all people affected by our actions. Placemakers can accomplish this by ensuring that users pay the full costs associated with their consumption and behaviour.
Help the people who use or move through them experience a greater sense of control, comfort and agency.
People who feel able to navigate and thrive amid daily challenges are happier and more resistant to disease, a condition that psychologists call mastery. Urban design and systems can enhance or corrode this ability to cope with everyday challenges by making commuting, wayfinding, socializing, or working more easy or difficult. Neighbourhoods can be configured so that place users and outsiders can navigate them intuitively. This involves
a combination of tools, from architectural cues to offering straightforward routes for pedestrians.
Places of ease give users a sense of freedom rather than constriction. They empower us to move as we please without feeling stuck and frustrated. They meet our basic needs for comfort so we are not stressed and uncertain about our immediate future. This means ensuring that movement on foot or by bicycle is easy, comfortable, and intuitive.
Offer access and opportunity across the spectrum of human diversity.
The more that all people are empowered to participate in economic and cultural life, the stronger we all are. Societies with a narrow gap between rich and poor are both happier and healthier than less equal societies.
So while the push for more equity in communities has an ethical basis, it is also pragmatic for people of all social classes.
While urban designers may not be able to solve societal inequality, they can use design and management practices to ensure that the broadest spectrum of people can participate in and contribute to city life. Inclusive environments are places that work better for everybody, of all abilities, at all stages of life. Places should feel safe and welcoming for everyone.