Gehl Institute Releases New 'Guide to Inclusion and Health in Public Space'

The Gehl Institute's new Inclusive Healthy Places Framework is a free tool for evaluating and creating inclusive public places that support health equity.

3 minute read

July 13, 2018, 1:00 PM PDT

By Todd Litman


LA Ciclavia

Neon Tommy / Flickr

How do we know when public space supports health, and when processes that shape public spaces are inclusive? Despite the growing evidence connecting place and health, design and physical activity, the natural environment and mental well-being, and more, there are few available resources to help planners and policymakers identify the kind of real evidence that is needed to help make decisions and fund public space projects that promote individual and community health and well-being. Similarly, though inclusion as a concept is well-discussed, there is no clear, shared working definition that can be tested and measured in design and public health practice.

The new report, Inclusive Health Places: A Guide to Inclusion & Health in Public Space. Learning Globally to Transform Locally, by Gehl Institute describes the Inclusive Healthy Places Framework, a free tool for evaluating and creating inclusive, healthy public places that support health equity. 

Great public spaces allow for healthy public life—for social interactions both planned and spontaneous on sidewalks or at bus stops, in parks, at street fairs, urban plazas, and outdoor concerts, and around public art installations. They can help unite us, and they can create and support opportunities for good individual health and well-being. Public spaces that invite use stimulate our minds and bodies; they invite creativity and activity. With thoughtful planning, design, cultivation, and activation, public spaces can play an important role in fostering healthier, more equitable communities. And this is a process that can and should originate from the ground up; great public spaces reflect what’s already there and who’s already there. They’re built through an inclusive process and sustained by an engaged community.

However, not all public spaces are created or maintained equally or equitably. Nor are the neighborhoods, towns, or cities that surround them. In fact, health disparities and inequities often are correlated with such factors as limited access to and low quality of available public spaces, as well as lesser degrees of representation and participation in the process of shaping and maintaining public spaces.

About the Report

The Framework and supporting analysis presented in the Inclusive Healthy Places report and on this site represent a synthesis of research and expertise in public health and urban planning and design, with specific focus on the social determinants of health that can be viewed clearly through the lens of public space.

The Guiding Principles of Inclusive Healthy Places introduced in the report and Framework outline four distinct but interrelated areas in which public space intersects with health equity and inclusion:

Principle 1. Recognize community context by cultivating knowledge of the existing conditions, assets, and lived experiences that relate to health equity.

Principle 2. Support inclusion in the processes that shape public space by promoting civic trust, participation, and social capital.

Principle 3. Design and program public space for health equity by improving quality, enhancing access and safety, and inviting diversity.

Principle 4. Foster social resilience and capacity of local communities to engage with changes in place over time by promoting representation, agency, and stability.

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