What Makes a Healthy Place?

Emphasizing suburban environments which are where much of the population growth will be housed in coming decades, this research project focuses on two questions. First, what makes a place healthier, that is what are such program aiming to achieve? What are the points of leverage for place based interventions versus those focused on people or on larger systems? Second, how can places go about achieving those goals–what mix of policies, programs, plans, and other activities can work.

Its starting point is the insight that collaborative and evidence-based approaches to implementing health-promoting policies across a range of policy and planning areas are often promoted as a way to achieve substantial health benefits. However, it is not clear how successful they have been. For example, in the mid-1980s the World Health Organization (WHO) started the Healthy Cities program. Drawing from some of the same ideas as Health in All Policies and health impact assessments, Healthy Cities aim to coordinate public, private, educational, and civic organizations to promote health across a wide spectrum of issues. Over the subsequent three decades hundreds if not thousands of cities and towns from around the globe have joined WHO-sponsored, national, and regional networks of such places. Other cities have tried to create healthier environments through different programs. Do these programs show a positive direction for the future or do they highlight continuing difficulties in attempts to use place-based interventions to make people healthier?