by Michael Hunton
As a landscape architect and urban designer, I find that during my daily commute I cannot help but critique the designed world around me, especially the streetscapes, parks, and plazas. In the context of the ongoing pandemic and its implication for wellness, top of mind lately has been the question of how landscape architects can incorporate wellness design into what we do.
For many workplaces, the recent pandemic changed the way many people envision “going to work.” For me at least, not having to travel to work allowed for more time during the day for walking or jogging nearby as I began working from home. I was also able to visit the corner market more often to avoid crowds in larger stores. The most noticeable change in my work-at-home world is that there are more people around the neighborhood and in parks since there is less commuting.
In and outside of most offices, wellness became a common topic of conversation. Although some industries, such as hospitality, took a significant financial hit over the past few years, the architecture, engineering, and construction industry has been booming in numerous markets. In addition to stress caused by the pandemic, stress levels also grew because of increases in workload and overtime. Recently, however, a general acceptance and promotion of a healthy work–life balance and workday flexibility has, from a personal health perspective, perhaps been one of the greatest positive benefits of this pandemic.
In the urban designer’s toolbox, we already have design concepts that can address the need to strengthen wellness within local communities in a city network. Listed with each item here is a Langan project that incorporates strengthening wellness:
- The 15-minute city is a concept, developed by Professor Carlos Morena in Paris, that envisions a city organized by neighborhoods where one can access most daily necessities within a 15-minute walk or bike. (Olive + Wooster, New Haven, Conn.)
- Placemaking and tactical urbanism create culturally rich public spaces that are inclusive and equitable especially within low-income areas. (Plumley Village, Worcester, Mass.)
- Complete Streets philosophies promote a pedestrian-first environment that recaptures the urban fabric for multimodal travel and safely accommodate people, pets, bicycles, and cars in order to increase physical health and encourage people to get outside. (Riverfront Master Plan, Middletown, Conn.)
- Resilient planning encourages durable, lasting waterfront design that enhances habitat and allows for public access to the water using the Waterfront Alliance’s WEDG Guidelines (Southpoint Park, New York City, N.Y.)
- Sustainability is inherent in all of these concepts above, encouraging green infrastructure to reduce the burden on stormwater systems and the overall carbon footprint by minimizing the need for vehicular travel and emissions to improve air quality. (Saugatuck TOD Master Plan, Westport, Conn.)
With wellness at the forefront of designers’ minds, the future could be brighter for urban neighborhoods. The design-concept examples discussed above are not new to landscape architects and urban planners. But the pandemic emphasized our need to focus on wellness, and that need drives the urgency to incorporate these concepts into more and more design projects. It is up to us as urban designers to advocate for wellness by focusing on environment-healthy design and to educate the public about the benefits of that design. While observing our cities over the next few years, I will look forward to critiquing less of the old and applauding more of the new successful installations of urban wellness design.
Michael Hunton, PLA, ASLA, WEDG is the New England Landscape Architecture + Planning Studio lead at Langan.