Connecting and strengthening communities in places for health and well-being

Thomson Susan and Kent Jennifer

Thompson, S., & Kent, J. (2013). Connecting and strengthening communities in places for health and well-being. Australian Planner, 51(3), 260-271.

Community Building , Healthy Planning , Neighborhood Design , Open Space , Places Framework , Safety

A healthy built environment is one which connects citizens together to create a sense of community. These are influential determinants of good mental and physical health. This paper presents an overview of key research on how the built environment supports the development of community as part of creating and sustaining places for health and well-being. Formal public places such as town squares, plazas, parks and gardens cultivate community in numerous ways. Informal public places such as those in between buildings, on the street, at the train station and bus stop are also important for social encounters and interaction. Careful design of open space, neighbourhood streets and buildings can encourage human interaction as part of community creation. Evidence is presented here as a ‘Places Framework’ to illuminate the ways in which place strengthens community. The paper concludes by discussing and critically evaluating policy implications for urban planners and designers. Major gaps in the research are identified and suggestions made for future investigative work to strengthen the evidence for building healthy communities through built environment interventions.

Main finding
The thorough review of the healthy planning literature suggests that generally, sense of community can be created and sustained through public places within the built environment. The findings found from the review suggest that green open spaces can increase the community's contact with nature, while streets and neighborhoods can enable social encounters and social interactions. The author also highlights the need for very careful planning, but also suggests that even if these public places are planned for but not perceived safe by the community, they will not fulfill their initial role. Therefore, careful and complex studies must be made according to the author to promote well-informed policies about communities.

Description of method used in the article
economic, health, medical, transport and environmental research databases were searched using keywords and terms tailored for each database

Of practical use

Organising categories

Urban Planning
Physical types
Geographic locations