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Places People Prefer

The Office
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Wellbeing

Good design – the wellbeing dividend

A British Land report quantifies how the economy would benefit from improving mental health and wellbeing through good urban design

Improving the design of urban environments so that they have a positive effect on personal wellbeing could potentially save the UK economy £15 billion by 2050. That’s the most striking statistic in a recent British Land report (produced in conjunction with WPI Economics) that analyses and quantifies the benefits of designing places with mental health in mind.

In the introduction to the report, entitled A Design for Life, British Land Chief Executive Chris Grigg highlights the alarming prevalence of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety; it’s estimated that one in four people living in the UK experiences such issues every year. The problem is particularly acute among those living in towns and cities, who have a 40% greater risk of depression and a 20% greater risk of anxiety than those who live in rural areas, according to one study. Lifestyle factors associated with urban living, such as lack of physical exercise and exposure to air pollution, have been shown to contribute to these issues.

Positive interventions

The report goes on to highlight the importance of design: “Places can be designed to promote activity over sedentary choices, feelings of security over fear, calm over stress and openness over hostility. With eight in ten of the UK population living in urban environments, their design is a powerful tool through which to wield positive influence, facilitating good physical and mental health.”

“Placemaking has a vital role to play in improving people’s health, happiness and productivity. Places designed with wellbeing in mind can provide a foundation for people’s health and happiness,” says Matt Webster, Head of Wellbeing and Futureproofing at British Land.

Examples of such positive interventions include:

  • Providing good facilities for walking, running and cycling, to encourage people to take more physical exercise
  • Planting trees, bushes and green walls, to reduce air pollution levels
  • Designing offices that incorporate communal and recreational areas, to encourage human interaction and counter stress and isolation

These and other instances of good design are not necessarily any more expensive than the alternatives, and the commercial case for them is compelling: “The design of the built environment plays a critical role in determining the value of a place. Successful places are more frequently used, and this increase in demand translates to a rise in commercial value.”

“Design is a powerful tool through which to wield positive influence, facilitating good physical and mental health.”

Even more compellingly, WPI Economics has modelled data from a number of sources to quantify the huge benefits to the UK economy of a 1% fall in the incidence of common mental health disorders in urban areas, driven by good design, over a 30-year period. A combination of lower government spending on healthcare and the productivity gains to employers, and the country as a whole, adds up to an estimated total saving of £15.3 billion by 2050.

In the zone

So how can these potential benefits be realised? Rather than leaving it to individual developers and local authorities, the report proposes a way in which the government could promote good design. The Local Government Finance Bill 2016/17 prepared the way for the creation of Enterprise Zones that would promote urban regeneration and economic development, but these plans were shelved when the 2017 General Election was called.

The report suggests that the idea could be revived in the form of Urban Wellbeing Zones, and that the criteria for establishing these “would explicitly ensure that mental health and wellbeing were a central focus of the plans; creating areas that people don’t just want to work and do business in – where they also live and prosper”.

Unlike opt-in health initiatives such as gyms, environments designed for wellbeing benefit 100% of the people who spend time in them,” Webster explains. “When we create green, friendly, active and attractive places, they can impact positively on people’s lives and wider society for many years.”

Wellbeing in practice

British Land has developed a set of wellbeing principles with Happy City and put them into practice at its London office campuses. At Paddington Central, for example, it has transformed the areas between the buildings into a mixture of green spaces featuring mature trees, bushes and fragrant plants. These spaces prioritise pedestrians over motor traffic and feature outdoor seating, games and art installations, encouraging people from across the campus to spend more time socialising outdoors. There is also an ongoing programme of wellbeing awareness initiatives across the campus, including an annual Health and Wellbeing Week.

“When we create green,friendly, active and attractive places, they can impact positively on people’s lives and wider society for many years” – Matt Webster, British Land

Across town on the Broadgate campus, 100 Liverpool Street is being redeveloped with Gold WELL Certification in mind. The certification focuses on innovations to promote health and wellbeing through the quality of the physical environment and by facilitating healthy lifestyles. The building (due to be completed later this year) aims to achieve this through features such as smart ventilation, an emphasis on natural light, and design that encourages active lifestyles and connects the building’s users to nature.

“The beauty of being in a building where wellbeing features are designed in is that people benefit simply by coming to work,” says Webster. “The way we have designed 100 Liverpool Street has real potential to be good news, both for the people based there and for their employers, supporting not only employee wellbeing, but satisfaction and productivity too.”

Click here to download A Design for Life


Tagged in: BROADGATE, DESIGN, HEALTH, PADDINGTON CENTRAL, WELLBEING

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