In The Topography of Wellness, Sara Carr explores how strategies adopted to address six previous health epidemics transformed the urban landscape in the United States. Amidst the current restrictions of the coronavirus lockdown, it seems inevitable that a new chapter in town planning will require to be written.
Planning legislation was borne out of a need to deal with insanitary and congested conditions in towns and cities, but recently the focus has more often been on how new development impacts on the environment, rather than on its health benefits.
In a remarkably prescient move, the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 has put health and well-being back in the spotlight with a requirement for developers to carry out health impact assessments and the Proposed Aberdeen City Local Development Plan 20 may be the first LDP to include a "Healthy Developments" policy.
But what is a healthy development? And does it differ from sustainable development? Is there a conflict between safeguarding public health and addressing climate change?
Urban density has advantages for environmental sustainability; energy efficiency; availability of services; public transport and affordable housing, but many are pointing (rightly or wrongly) to the increased number of coronavirus cases in densely populated areas.
If coronavirus has changed the way we shop and socialise, will it also change where we want to live? As we all become more adept at home-working, the need to live near where you work reduces. Social distancing has actually brought neighbours closer together. We are finding that community is more important than proximity. In the early 1900s, Scottish town planner, Sir Patrick Geddes, urged us to think globally, act locally. We are seeing that played out in practice now, across the world.
It is likely that going forward there will be renewed emphasis on neighbourhood design, with walkable local facilities and open space, as exemplified by new communities such as Chapelton of Elsick and Countesswells in Aberdeen. This approach has health and well-being benefits as well as environmental advantages, but perhaps the biggest change in town planning arising from this pandemic will be the provision of health services within communities.
With a shortage of hospital beds and equipment, the way we receive primary healthcare has already changed. Videoconferencing with your doctor from your front room is now commonplace. Online prescription and home delivery is routine. We have already seen the advantages to both the patient and the medical profession in keeping people healthy and at home.
Many people already monitor their exercise, sleep and calorie intake. Recording temperature won't be far behind. Uploading the data via smart homes healthcare technology so that a doctor has real time information on every patient is an obvious next step and may lead to more personalised healthcare provision, at a fraction of the current cost. Rather than contributing to the cost of constructing new health centres and pharmacies, developers could be encouraged to equip new homes for telemedicine.
So developments in health make for healthy developments. A new chapter in planning unfolds.