It is five years since the publication of the Landscape Institutes’s position paper on public health, which was commissioned to respond to the UK government’s decision to shift staff and accountability for public health from NHS England to English local authorities, with the national remit being given to Public Health England.
It was also a period in which devolution had a significant impact on approaches to public health in devolved nations. In this article, we ask six experts to look at what’s happened since in terms of research, evidence, policy and projects.
Marcus: Where do you think the biggest progress has been made in the area of landscape and public health over the past five years? What examples of progress – or steps backward – in public health policy, evidence, or landscape practice, would you point to in the UK? With your Cities & Health hat on, where should we be looking for trailblazing cities in this area?
I have been involved with issues of health in landscape, urban design and city planning some twenty years. Over the past five years I have witnessed an unprecedented upsurge of interest in this agenda by those responsible for policy, design and management of urban environments.
The potential further development, in both the breadth and depth, of the field of landscape and health is vast. Remember that the field encompasses not only the health and well-being of communities and individuals but also the relationship of managed and designed places to the health of local and global ecosystem services. This must be tackled as a unified systemic agenda.
This places landscape professionals, through our training, remit and competencies, in position to play a significant role.
Many of us are already making progress, however this is fragmented. We need keep reminding ourselves that popular elements, such as landscapes for healing, green gyms, child-friendly places, and designs to support active travel, must not be allowed to be seen as all we have to offer.
We need to keep the more difficult issues on the table; such as access to local food growing, solar orientation and use of nature for thermal comfort and – all important (for health) – end user participation in design and management. Equally we need to be innovative in ensuring that new opportunities afforded by the digital agenda, smart city and product design can be harnessed to provide healthier places.
Our profession has a vital part to play in marrying the science of public health with the art of creative design and placemaking. But we need to be more adept in relation to scientific evidence.
An internet search for evidence is now at our fingertips; but how many of us know how to assess the quality of any scientific evidence we find? We many be able to quote ‘facts’ about landscape and health; but are we equipped with the advocacy skills needed convince decision-makers to prioritise healthier placemaking?
An issue still waiting to be unpacked is health equity. For the public health profession this is an inseparable element of the health agenda.
Putting it bluntly, inequities in health leading to the inequalities in health outcomes fall on the weakest in our community.These are of society’s own making and patently unfair.
- If a much-lauded greening of a neighbourhood results in higher property prices, driving out the very communities that the funding targeted; this is not public health.
- Or an upgrading based intervention of improves average population health by only lifting the well-being of those already in the top quintile; this is not public health.
I believe that there is enormous potential in this agenda for all those involved the urban landscape profession whether through sciences, management or design is only just coming into view. As a profession, we are gaining clarity over the role that landscape can play in people’s and planetary health. We now need to develop the confidence to advocate for healthier place-making. We need to take our place in public health policy-making at all levels.
Landscape Institutes‘s position paper on public health: Via LI website look for policy: public health.
Summer issue of ‘Landscape’ – a special issue about landscape and public health
Published as: Grant, M. Briefing, where are we now? Landscape – The journal of the Landscape Institute. Summer 2018, P8. Pub: London, Darkhorse Design