Community Health and Healthier Spaces - Mayo Center for Innovation Healthcare Design

Cities Built for People

Post Written By Philip Kersten

American cities have achieved the intentions of their design with outstanding success. Economic growth and urban expansion has been a benefit for American businesses for decades and the design of the cities we live in has been reflecting this to an ever greater extent. At the same time—as we all know—the health of the citizens living in these cities has deteriorated with respect to their everyday fitness.

According to Adam Ferrari’s PechaKucha Talk at the Mayo Clinic’s Transform Conference 2015, time spent driving rather than walking is one of the main culprits for Americans’ lack of healthy movement. The ability to move between areas of a city without moving their bodies has made it easy for people to disregard the importance of walking. The design of urban sprawl has only exacerbated this consequence of the conveniences of modern life. Parking lots and highways between restaurants and retail stores seem like vast deserts to the average pedestrian—many would rather drive and find a new parking space than traverse this unforgiving terrain.

Physician recommendations of getting more walking in each day often go unheeded. People feel their time is partitioned between work, family, and personal time already. But what if we could incorporate walking into that daily routine by changing the design of the cities where people spend their time at work and with their families? What if healthy decisions could be made as convenient and accessible as the current options to avoid them?

Projects led by designers around the nation seek to answer these questions and create urban environments that encourage healthier choices. From the Build a Better Block movement in Texas to the Pavement to Parks project on the West Coast, the concepts of thinking big, starting small, and moving fast are visible in the efforts of many design groups seeking to change their cities. As Ferrari says, these efforts are not exclusive to planning departments or design firms, nor should they be. Cities ought to be designed for people and, in many cases, the momentum for change comes from the people living in these spaces.

However, as much as people may drive change, they may also obstruct it. The largest hindrance to changing cities is the apathy of its residents. In order for a city to become healthier, a collective belief that it is possible and of interest to make that change is necessary. As we go about our days working, commuting, dining, and otherwise experiencing our cities, we can all benefit from believing in a healthier space for tomorrow.