By Amanda Li, B.A., Junior Policy Associate
As reported by the County Health Rankings, only 20% of our health is determined by the clinical care that we receive. The remaining 80% is based on our health behaviors (30%), socioeconomic factors (40%), and physical environment (10%). With factors like education, employment, income, social support, community safety, housing, transit, and capacity to eat healthy and exercise impacting 80% of our health and wellbeing, we cannot ignore these determinants of health. A major way we can address these determinants of health and create healthier communities is through placemaking.
According to Melody Goodman from the Washington University in St. Louis, “Your zip code is a better predictor of your health than your genetic code.” Low-income communities are more likely to lack features that support walking and exercise, like well-maintained sidewalks, parks, trees, and recreational facilities, as well as those that support healthy eating, like supermarkets and places that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Although there is no one definition for it, placemaking is all about redesigning a community space to encourage healthy behavior, build social capital, promote local economic growth, improve safety, reduce crime, boost civic engagement, and reduce health disparities.
With increasing awareness of the truth around Goodman’s statement and the potential impact that placemaking can have on health, the Project for Public Spaces has recently released The Case for Healthy Places: Improving Health through Placemaking report. The report provides research, recommendations, case-studies, and evidence-based guidance for creating positive programs and infrastructure that promote the following placemaking initiatives:
- Social Support & Interaction: Having good social support helps create a feeling of belonging and promotes mental health. Examples of placemaking initiatives to increase social support include pavement painting and garden projects led by community residents.
- Play & Active Recreation: Physical activity helps people reduce their risks of chronic disease, stay healthier both mentally and physically, and live longer. Placemaking can engage the community in efforts to create public spaces and activities that encourage physical activity on a regular basis.
- Green & Natural Environments: Natural green places have many health benefits. Greenery has been shown to increase exercise, cardio-metabolic health, attention, memory, and social capital, as well as reduce depression, anxiety, stress, and crime. Adding green, natural elements to a community space is a placemaking initiative that provides simple, low-cost, and immediate improvements.
- Healthy Food: The accessibility and affordability of fresh, healthy food is important to promoting community health and preventing chronic disease. Placemaking initiatives that increase the accessibility of healthy food (like public markets and community gardens) not only increases the consumption of fresh produce, but they also provide greater opportunity for economic development, local entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, community bonding, and nutrition-based education.
- Walking & Biking: Efforts to make a community more walkable comes with many benefits, including enhancing street safety, reducing chronic disease, decreasing air pollution, bolstering local economies, encouraging physical activity, and improving cognitive function. Enhancing the aesthetics of sidewalks, improving the safety of streets and bike lanes, and creating new quality destinations within the community are all placemaking initiatives intended to make a more walkable/bikeable community.
Placemaking is an integral part to achieving DASH-NY’s policy priorities around Active Communities, Clinical & Community Linkages, Economic & Community Development, Food Policy, and Healthy Schools & Childcare. Additionally, APP will host a learning collaborative in the spring for local health departments looking to identify placemaking activities that can reduce health disparities in their communities. We are very excited by Project for Public Spaces’ release of The Case for Healthy Places report, and will continue to support placemaking initiatives throughout our communities.