I love where I live. It’s not the most upscale neighborhood in my city, but it’s rich in the elements that make for a vibrant, connected community. There’s a bus stop at the end of my block, a food co-op down the street, a new library around the corner, four nearby parks I visit while walking my dog, a good mix of single-family homes and apartment buildings, and neighbors who represent a wide range of ethnicities, ages, and incomes.
As it turns out, my love of these features isn’t a fluke. They’re all elements of the nine principles of healthy neighborhoods, as defined by the University of Virginia’s Center for Design and Health and Hart Howerton, a New York City and San Francisco–based interdisciplinary design firm.
These urban-design guidelines aim to help planners create developments, neighborhoods, and communities that better support residents’ physical, social, and emotional well-being. As Hart Howerton managing principal Tim McCarthy points out, “A lot of living happens between buildings.”
“We’re starting to realize that reactive healthcare isn’t sustainable,” says McCarthy. “We need to move to a more proactive mindset and break down the silos between designers, physicians, and governments. Then we can develop environments that improve health outcomes and help alleviate the burden of treating chronic conditions at a macroeconomic level.”
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