The Built Environment and Public Health: Theory to Practice

    Kurko, John
    HOLDEN, Gordon
    Urban and landscape studies


A public health crisis is looming. The recent Australian Bureau of Statistics report ‘Australian Health Survey’ (October 2012) highlighted increasing overweight/obesity and alarmingly low rates of exercise in the country’s population. It is projected that the problem will decimate the nation’s future capacity to pay for health-support as the population ages, unless the trend can be turned around. There is now very widely accepted convergent research bridging the public health sector, environmental psychology, town planning, transport planning and urban design that concludes the importance of better urban design of the built environment in facilitating better public health outcomes. Beyond concerns for public health, including climate change impact and reliance on fossil fuels, more and more signals point to the lack of sustainability of our current lifestyles. Many remedies are being explored and central to most of them is the harsh reality that the built environment is the major contributor to sustainability problems and consequentially must be where solutions are found. Urban design is a slow-acting force but potentially a powerful one that has taken over twenty-five years in Australia to gain traction at a leadership level. The value of urban design is constantly being challenged but as the evidence mounts that good urban design matters significantly, there is a need to communicate best knowledge. Contributing to this is the need for more case studies to demonstrate solutions that can be taken up and applied across communities. Social ecology and planned behaviour theory confirms that urban design attributes need to be combined in order to reliably deliver good results. An integrated approach is required. A case study is presented that shows how a country town has responded to the evidence and has developed practical policies underpinned by theory to guide the future design and upgrading of the built environment to help improve public health.

Conference theme: Building on Knowledge: Theory and Practice

Keywords: Built Environment Urban Design Public Health.

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