Health and landscape professionals agree on role of landscape in public health

Landscape architects and public health professionals expressed an urge to work more closely together at the launch of the Landscape Institute's latest position statement.

One of the projects mentioned in the report: Inwood Park Water Play Area by Shackell Associates
One of the projects mentioned in the report: Inwood Park Water Play Area by Shackell Associates

Public Health and Landscape – Creating Healthy Places states that health concerns should be a key part of landscape design and creation.

But while representatives of both disciplines agreed that good landscapes could lead to better health, there was no clear route showing how this could be funded.

The report identifies five principles of what makes a healthy place and sets out ten recommendations. The five principles are:

  • They improve air, water and soil quality and mitigate climate change.
  • They overcome health inequalities and promote healthy lifestyles.
  • They make people feel more comfortable, increase social interaction and reduce anti-social behaviour.
  • They optimise opportunities for working, learning and development.
  • They are restorative, uplifting and healing for both physical and mental illnesses.

Introducing the report at the launch event at LI headquarters in central London last night (12 November) president Sue Illman said: "Too often public discussions on health centre around the symptoms of diseases and how they are treated and fail to acknowledge the much wider environmental issues that contribute to health and well being.

"The contribution that landscape makes is fundamental. These things we all instinctively know are now evidenced by research."

She showed a video of the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden - a dramatic example of how landscape improvements can benefit a neighbourhood.

Chair of the report’s working group Dr Val Kirby said landscape architects recognised that public health and particularly inequalities in public health were strongly promoted issues and said the movement of public health budgets into local authority hands in April had focused minds.

Contrary to earlier LI publications she said it was the first time the LI had produced a position statement which it intended to carry on working on after publication.

She urged representatives from both professions to work with each other and offered to act as a conduit for people to connect with each other.

Director of health equity and impact at Public Health England Dr Ann Marie Connolly, director of public health at the London Borough of Enfield Dr Shahed Ahmad and principal public health adviser with NHS Scotland Sheila Beck, all agreed that having better landscapes and green spaces and using them to become more active were beneficial to public health.

Connolly said two thirds of adults and one third of children were overweight or obese.

"We have to look at how we design around simple parts of daily life - how we go to work, to the shops, to see friends and family."

She said that between only 15 and 41 per cent (depending on location) of people exercise outdoors - a number her organisation aims to grow. She said availability of green and blue space helped increase that number.

Ahmad has reduced mortality in Enfield by 34 per cent in three years and said there was work that could be done to avoid designing "obeseogenic environments" such as parts of America where people have to drive everywhere.

He outlined how going for "low hanging fruit" in Enfield meant that some changes could be made easily and relatively inexpensively.

But Beck, whose home city Glasgow was highlighted in a World Health Organisation report in 2008, showing that boys born in one area lived to an average of 54 against an average of 82 in another, said there was no simple solution.

"We can’t give out wodges of money because the first time someone’s granny is denied intensive care because the money has all gone to plant trees somewhere there’s going to be a huge row."

She said initiatives such as greening the school and NHS estates had helped in Scotland.

One issue highlighted was that the types of studies and evidence collected differed between the two professions.

All three health professionals stressed the importance of gathering the right type of evidence so they could show the positive impact of green space and to help in allocating budgets.

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