Healthy Places

The connection between health, well-being, and place is a complex one with many dimensions. This class focuses on four topics that will be important in coming decades: a place, suburbia; a population, older people; a method, neighborhood health assessment; and an implementation strategy, multi-sectoral collaboration.
1. Place: Suburbia is a key site for urban growth in coming decades and has provoked polarized opinions about its healthiness. The class will look beyond the hype to understand the strengths and weaknesses of this very diverse part of the metropolitan landscape.
2. Population: The aging of the world’s population is an enormous challenge that will fundamentally reshape households, cities, and regions. The class will engage the shifting physiological and psychological dimensions of aging. This is an area of some innovation in terms of technology, housing forms, transportation options, and lifestyle options.

3. Understanding the healthiness of existing and proposed neighborhoods is an issue that is more contentious than it would at first appear as various assessments start from different premises. The class will examine existing tools including health impact assessment, healthy community assessment, community health needs assessment, as well as various livability and sustainability tools. The course will also engage with an emerging kind of tool the neighborhood health assessment or audit.

4. Because health and well-being are so multifaceted many propose collaborative models of implementing healthy places strategies including well-known approaches like healthy cities, age-friendly communities, and child-friendly environments. The course will unpack these approaches, asking how effective they really are.

In examining these topics students will also reflect on some larger questions. Can the way places are planned and designed improve health? What are the key health issues that should concern those in planning and related fields? Does the work of incorporating health issues into planning and design processes always add value? Is evidence-based practice really an improvement over business-as-usual? What is the relationship between the different approaches to incorporating health into planning and design practice: health assessments, built projects, regulations and policies, inter-agency coordination, and programs to change how places are used?

By the end of the course a student will be able to:
1. Recognize a number of key concepts and debates pertaining to the relationship between health and places.
2. Appreciate the many determinants of health including, but not limited to, built environments.
3. Understand, analyze, and evaluate research related to health and places particularly in the areas of suburban development, aging, assessment, and collaborative implementation.
4. Comprehend the potentials and limitations of using research to create evidence-based interventions.
5. Appreciate the roles of different disciplines, and of local knowledge, in working on issues connecting health and places.
6. Identify points of leverage in designing and regulating the physical built environment, creating policies related to how it is used, and developing programs set in the built environment.

Students will write response papers (at least 6, in weeks of their choosing) and develop a longer paper which can be either a case study of an implemented project or a practical project with a client.