Building Healthy Places

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November 14, 2013
By Debbie Lou
Building Healthy Places


What happens when a room full of people from fields as diverse as medicine, urban planning, architecture, public health, and real estate spend two and a half days together thinking about what makes a community healthy?

I had the honor of finding out when I participated in an Urban Land Institute (ULI) workshop last August. I was among 23 people invited to develop ULI’s Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places, a document highlighting practical steps for land use professionals and others to create healthy and vibrant places. The ten principles are:


  1. Put People First
  2. Recognize the Economic Value
  3. Empower Champions for Health
  4. Energize Shared Spaces
  5. Make Healthy Choices Easy
  6. Ensure Equitable Access
  7. Mix It Up
  8. Embrace Unique Character
  9. Promote Access to Healthy Food
  10. Make it Active


ULI released the Ten Principles document at its 2013 fall meeting, along with another publication, Intersections: Health and the Built Environment, which proposes that we can build our way to better health by changing our approach to cities, communities, and places. These reports kick-off ULI’s new Building Healthy Places Initiative, which will shape projects and places around the world that promote active, sustainable, and socially and economically thriving communities. ULI Chairman Lynn Thurber said “…with this effort, wellness is the intent, the designated outcome…Our focus will be on defining the role land use plays in creating healthy places for all generations.”

The Building Healthy Places Initiative will set a terrific example for ULI’s membership, which consists mainly of land developers, builders, property owners, investors, and real estate brokers. Generally, these groups have not been primarily concerned about whether people can be physically active where they live, work, or go to school. In fact, most communities built in the last 40 years or so engineered walking and biking out of our daily lives. But evidence shows there are economic benefits to building neighborhoods which encourage active lifestyles.

A growing number of cities are recognizing the importance of designing active places. New York City, for example, has blazed this trail through several initiatives, the most recent being the creation of the Center for Active Design. The Center, which played a key role in developing the Ten Principles document, seeks to reduce obesity and other chronic diseases by promoting active living and healthy eating through the design of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods.

These are exciting developments and I look forward to seeing how they will lead to the creation of healthier places for all.

About the author

Debbie Lou, Ph.D., ( is the Program Analyst with Active Living Research, where she translates and disseminates evidence on how policies and environments can promote physical activity. Debbie has a background in sociology with a focus on social justice issues.

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