To architects, it seems self-evident: good design can improve human well-being. But clients and communities are asking for more, including proof of the relationship of design, planning, and public health. In 2012, the American Institute of Architects and partners made a CGI Commitment to Action to establish the Decade of Design: Global Urban Solutions Challenge. The Decade of Design reflects our commitment to find solutions for the built environment in the interest of public health, with appropriate methods to document the facts, analyze the data and envision healthful solutions with ways to implement them.
We have formed two key partnerships to further our CGI Commitment to Action, with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Advanced Urbanism (MIT CAU). Together we are leveraging design thinking in order to effect meaningful change in urban environments through research, community participation, design frameworks, and active implementation of innovative solutions.
We have partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Urbanism to advance research, analysis, speculation, invention, and ultimately the design and development of sustainable models of urbanism centered on health metrics.
The first piece of the partnership with MIT was a course held this spring semester, Advanced Research Workshop in Landscape + Urbanism. This course brought together the energy and excitement of MIT graduate students seeking to make a difference. The students fanned out across the country to study eight metropolitan regions—Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, and New York. The research included fieldwork, novel forms of geographic and environmental analysis, social factors, and the development of indexed priorities detailing where design may influence urban health the most. Each metropolitan area was comparatively studied at the county scale for health indicators, with more detailed studies conducted in health hot spots. The next step is to determine which city will serve as the ultimate laboratory for design solutions that can have a major impact on health.
In partnership with ACSA we have provided grant funding to three universities—Texas A&M, University of Arkansas, and the University of New Mexico—to develop action-oriented research on how to create healthier communities through design.
Texas A&M is undertaking a research project evaluating the health benefits of livable communities and creating a toolkit for measuring the health impacts of walkable communities. Researchers at the University of Arkansas are working on long-range food scenario planning through Fayetteville 2030. The city is slated to double in population in the next two decades, and they have convened community leaders to focus on local food production, including urban farming. At the University of New Mexico, they’re establishing an interdisciplinary public health and architecture curriculum to help architects and public health officials speak the same language on health and the built environment.
With more than half of the world’s inhabitants currently living in urban areas, and this number projected to grow to more than 70 percent by 2050, it is imperative that we plan for the future. Early intervention by the design community is crucial whenever a major effort at urban renaissance is being planned or undertaken. The Decade of Design is helping to prepare us for our inevitable urban future with healthy, livable environments for all.