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Jan 27, 2016 | by Centre

Improving Public Health through our Public Places

Here, Lauren Pennycook, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust talks about the Place Standard tool and how our public places impact our wellbeing.

‘Health is something that is created by people within the everyday settings of their life’, according to former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland Sir Harry Burns. But are the places we live in actually designed to promote good health and actively reduce heath inequalities in our communities? And how can we assess if our public spaces are contributing to our individual and community wellbeing?
The Scottish Government, Architecture and Design Scotland and NHS Health Scotland have been working in partnership to address how we can put our public spaces to the test, by developing the new Place Standard tool. The aim of the Place Standard tool is to support the delivery of high quality public spaces and to maximise the potential of the physical and social structures in our communities to promote good health, wellbeing and a good quality of life. The tool asks users to answer questions around key themes such as access to greenspace, housing, and availability of areas for play and recreation to help map out how well our communities are currently designed to promote public health. But as well as looking back, the tool allows users to look forward and identify areas for development in their communities.
At the Carnegie UK Trust, we were keen to ensure that the tool was accessible to community groups, in line with our century-long commitment to improving the availability and nature of public spaces for the benefit of individuals and communities. To that end we agreed this summer to pilot the tool with three of the Scottish winners of our Carnegie Prize for Design and Wellbeing. With the help of expert researchers Blake Stevenson Ltd we tested and evaluated the tool with the award-winning groups in Auchencairn,Greenock, and Kirkcaldy. This process enabled us to gather feedback on the content and usability of the tool, and also to catch up with how the projects have developed since last year. The exercise also helped the groups to identify what improvements could be made to their local areas to help reduce health inequalities and improve quality of life.
At Belville Community Garden in Greenock, the tool highlighted that more seating would be welcome to encourage older people to visit the garden, and that access to the garden for younger children could be improved by a safe crossing point from a busy road. In Kirkcaldy, the Pathhead Street Design project found that the tool helped to shine a light on the fact that the space could be used to encourage more social interaction between residents – with the help of more seats, a café or even just a community noticeboard. In reflecting on how far the project had come, one participant raised the fact that that the tool would have been useful at the beginning of the development process, noting ‘we would have probably have eventually reached the same set of actions but we would have done so in a more planned way’.
2016 sees the Scottish Government celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design and in all likelihood will see the implementation of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act – both of which present an opportunity for communities across the country to embrace the Place Standard tool and work with developers and local councils to improve public health and wellbeing through public design. The tool is not designed to set up a league table of communities across Scotland or to help communities to create a list of demands of their local council a time when the public sector must do less with fewer resources. Instead, it is designed to be an empowering conversation starter across sectors and community demographics to identify what can be improved for the wellbeing of all. Because, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has observed, ‘people make places… [a public space] only comes into being when it is activated by the presence of people’.
Re-posted from the Carnegie Trust UK blog


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