England gets healthy new towns – but what about its old towns?
England’s National Health Service this week announced it will create 10 “healthy new towns.” The NHS’ objectives are noble, and the results will prove illuminating. Just like the U.S., the U.K. grapples with a worsening obesity crisis. An emphasis on walking and cycling are among the planned features, along with fast food-free zones around schools. Solutions targeting the needs of an aging population, too, could provide case studies for planners across the globe.
According to a release on the NHS’ website, “The NHS will help shape the way these new sites develop, so as to test creative solutions for the health and care challenges of the 21st century, including obesity, dementia and community cohesion. NHS England is bringing together renowned clinicians, designers and technology experts to reimagine how healthcare can be delivered in these places, to showcase what’s possible by joining up design of the built environment with modern health and care services, and to deploy new models of technology-enabled primary care.”
We’re intrigued, having provided full site design, civil and landscape architecture and permitting for the proposed Parkside Memory Cottage assisted living facility for Charlotte Medical Center. Other health conscious projects include the Cape Coral Hospital project, which employs the principles of creating an Optimal Healing Environment.
Naturally, it makes sense for public health officials and clinicians to work together with planners and designers to achieve sustainable, health-promoting principles from within the built environment – we think that’s the most important aspect of the “healthy new towns” concept. However, we also agree with Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins when he points out England’s existing problem with sprawl, and that rather than new builds, planners might first consider the untapped riches represented by unused and underused space. By increasing density, he argues, walkability increases and a greater swath of the population will benefit from services being nearby.
One things is certain: the “healthy new towns” project will provide many lessons to learn from for many years to come. But are there not lessons that planners and health agencies could draw now from the towns that are already built?