What Makes a Healthy Space?

The way a built environment is planned, designed, and executed can affect how physically active people will be, as well as how often they will return (make the space part of their routine.) To ensure success, a placemaking process involving the community is critical in understanding what the people who live in proximity to the space are interested in. What will make people want to come there? Why will they stay? What will they do in the space? Why would they want to return? Here are some important considerations for discussion.


Be sure the place is accessible by a variety of transportation, not just by car. Considering users that may walk, bike, ride public transportation, and how user friendly the space is for all members of the community regardless of age, ability or income is a crucial step to ensure access for all. Are there accessible routes of travel to and through the space? What type of inclusive amenities should be included to maximize usage by all? Is there an inclusive play space nearby or will adding one to your space help draw a wider audience willing to travel for fully inclusive play?


Is the space usable by a variety of fitness levels? Users will lose interest easily if all of the equipment offered, whether designed for play or fitness, is too easy or too difficult. Plan for a continuum of skill development so there is something for people to master, as well as activities for them to move to when they have mastered the current level. For this reason, apparatus that can be used in several ways, especially in fitness areas, are more desirable than those with only one function.


As part of the placemaking interview process, find out what people relate to in both the natural and built environments. How would they like to use paths, open spaces, garden spaces, vista points, etc, then what amenities, like play or fitness equipment, seating, shade, dog play products, or other will help them promote their shared interests? A study in Waterloo, ON found that children who had a playground less than 2/3 of a mile from their home were 5 times more likely to have a healthy weight than children who did not, and were more likely to play in areas with more installed play equipment, with densities of children up to 12.6 times higher than in an open grassy field. 

Intergenerational Appeal

Social contact is good for people. While people tend to gather with those in their age group, there are opportunities for growth through intergenerational activities. Adults can share knowledge and resources with younger generations, and as they continue to age, can benefit from the support an input of younger generations. Intergenerational activities bring together younger and older generations for a common purpose. They build on the strengths that different generations have to offer, nurture understanding and mutual respect, and challenge the stereotypes of ageism. Imagining ways to bring generations together in different settings within your space is beneficial to all. 

Asking meaningful questions before building a new park can ensure the space is well used and loved for generations to come. 

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