Health has become an increasingly important consideration in planning and design. How we plan, build, and grow plays a major role in determining the health of the people in our communities. It is important that planners understand how to measure community health, identify barriers to healthy communities, and seek interventions that can see true benefits realized.

In 2016, the Colorado Health Foundation provided the College of Architecture and Planning at CU Denver with a generous grant for a multi-year interdisciplinary project. The purpose of the project – titled Creating Healthy Places through Transformational Education and Design– is to evolve design and planning education as it relates to creating healthy places and improving personal wellness. The grant has been coordinated through the Dean’s office, which worked together with the department chairs, faculty, and the Colorado Center of Sustainable Urbanism (CCSU).

A major educational emphasis has been a multi-year studio series to enable graduate students in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, and regional and urban planning to have hands on experiences integrating health into their studies. Additional tasks include lectures and workshops, creating a professionals network, and web-based information, and developing a health design guidebook for use throughout Colorado.

Initial Work & Studios

Fall 2016 Interdisciplinary Research Team Health Project:

A six-member interdisciplinary project team conducted advance work on the three-year series for addressing the integration of health and wellness into design and planning education. The team was made up of research assistants from graduate degree programs for architecture, landscape architecture, urban and regional planning, urban design, and public health. The interdisciplinary team conducted research on most relevant existing work and programs on health and the built environment. In addition, the team also compiled a series of planning documents from the Sun Valley neighborhood in west Denver – the case study community for the Creating Healthy Places project. As a final step, the team developed a preliminary health-based evaluation tool (or “health lens”) for applying health factors as they relate to design and planning.

The team’s final report provides information on the various tasks and work completed by the interdisciplinary health team. Findings, limitations, and next steps are also provided. Guidance for the three-year studio series are included, as well as recommendations for course curriculum, and other outcomes related to the health grant.

Spring 2017 Urban Planning Project Studio & Urban Design Studio

Beginning in January of 2017, 25 graduate students in the Urban and Regional Planning program and the Urban Design program spent the semester studying healthy design practices and existing conditions in the Sun Valley neighborhood in west Denver. The final report, titled the Healthy Design Pattern Book, proposed design interventions that ensure future development contributes to a healthier community. The Pattern Book addresses neighborhood corridors, the community center, green streets and public places, porous and diverse blocks, courtyards, and walkable streets.

Fall 2017 Studios for Architecture and Planning, in cooperation with the School of Sociology

The pair of studios, in cooperation with students in the School of Sociology, explored the topic of healthy communities with a focus on two places: Sun Valley and the adjacent Villa Park neighborhood. Sociology students developed a survey for the residents of Villa Park households and asked survey questions regarding household composition, education, housing quality, housing type and more. The architecture students identified specific sites in the two neighborhoods and crafted interventions to address housing and green connections. The planning studio produced a final report titled the Healthy Communities Playbook was created. The Playbook includes recommendations for community engagement, economic inclusion, housing security and co-housing, food, and reducing driving.

Spring 2018 Interdisciplinary Health Research Team

A six-member interdisciplinary team was brought together to begin the process of working through outcomes and recommendations from the health studios for inclusion in the Creating Healthy Places Guidebook. The team identified approximately two dozen best practices and tools for inclusion into the Guidebook. Work took place to begin to standardize how to incorporate the various practices into the Guidebook, as well as to identify any gaps in information that would be beneficial to include in the final Guidebook.

Fall 2018 Planning Practice Studio and Landscape Architecture III Studio

The final set of studios focused on a subarea of Sun Valley, where the current uses are primarily industrial in nature. Attention was given to environmental restoration, green infrastructure, and adaptive reuse – all with a view toward health benefits. The planning studio final report, titled Sun Valley: Creating Healthy Places through Transformational Education and Design, provides recommendations for healthy industrial development, healthy greenways, and healthy infill and streetscape design. The landscape studio’s final report, titled Designing Well-Being In/Of the City, Rivers In/Of the City, addresses site planning and a design, guided by the Health Assessment Lens, which is a product from the project for evaluation a broad range of health related issues. For each intervention, the recommendations of the students consider equity, human well-being, harmony with nature, education and economic resiliency, healthy homes and buildings, and healthy connections.

Spring 2019 Interdisciplinary Health Research Team

A three-person team worked on incorporating final content for the Creating Healthy Places Guidebook and then editing the material. The team was responsible for design and layout of the final product prior to publication.