Health and Wellbeing must be Re-embedded into the Heart of Planning

Natasha Reid's piece for the Royal Town Planning Institutes publication - The Planner magazine (article link) - makes the case for integrating heath into spatial planning (May 2022)


“Reducing health inequalities requires working across many boundaries to find new solutions”

Today, the planning system and public health sit worlds apart, despite the significant societal challenges and inequalities that cities and places are facing.


I’ve joined the public sector through the Public Practice programme as I believe planning has the potential to bring about the step change needed for more positive health outcomes and life opportunities for people.


Evidence and studies such as The Marmot Review: Fair Society, Healthy Lives, show the built environment’s impact on our lives to the extent that there is a 10-year difference in life expectancy between most and least deprived neighbourhoods.. Health, inequality and deprivation, or flourishing and growth, are all tied together, as described through well-established concepts like the ‘social determinants of health’.


For meaningful change to happen, it is the wider societal systems like planning that need to be harnessed to find the levers for making real impact, rather than just waiting for innovative approaches to be adopted by forward-thinking clients or mould-breaking projects on a case-by-case basis.


"For meaningful change to happen, it is the wider societal systems like planning that need to be harnessed to find the levers for making real impact"

However, there is complexity surrounding the place-related factors affecting people’s health, wellbeing and quality of life. The issues are inherently interdisciplinary and interconnected, from understanding impacts on mental health to creating a sense of community or how spatial exclusion links to deprivation. Reducing health inequalities requires working across many boundaries to find new solutions. These challenges need ‘systems-thinking’ approaches that cuts across sectors to consider outcomes for people, place and planet together as one agenda.


A more relationship-based, approach could help to address how we could better create outcomes for individuals, communities and places, through the process of change.


This is about the design of new systems that can deal in human, social and ecological wellbeing and capital, alongside commercial capital.

Ultimately, planning holds the power to create the incentives that can help shift the development agenda beyond the production of commercial outputs towards prioritising human values, flourishing and societal outcomes. But to do so, health needs to be re-embedded at its heart once again – as a driving value shared across the board.


Natasha Reid is founder at Matter . Space . Soul (Design for Wellbeing) and also working on placemaking at Brent Council as a Public Practice associate.