IFLA Advisory Circle article: Urban Health at the Global Challenges Summit

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Author: Gayle Souter Brown, member of IFLA Advisory Circle

Last month I was invited to present at the Global Challenges Summit. Other presenters included Ban Ki-Moon, Francois Hollande, Steve Wozniak, Presidents and Prime Ministers, economists, scientists, futurists, Nobel laureates and business leaders. Topics for discussion ranged from averting World War Three to food security, from women’s representation to colonising space. Urban health was discussed in a panel format, presented by a property developer, Minister of Health, vertical farming expert, an ecologist, water security expert, physician and me, as salutogenic landscape and urban designer.

Urban Health at the Global Challenges SummitSalutogenesis describes a health-promoting, preventative approach. It is the opposite of the standard medical model of pathogenic healthcare which waits until a person is sick and then treats them back to health. We know there is a proven link between environment, design and health. We also know that the incidence of so-called lifestyle-related diseases is rising at unsustainable levels. Landscape architects have a significant role to play in public health as designers and advisers on urban landscapes. Ecologists understand the need for urban nature connection points, but landscape architects understand how to design those into the day-to-day lived experience of a community. Salutogenic landscapes emphasise soil quality, layered wildlife-attracting, biodiverse planting, seasonal variation. They are low-maintenance, but never low-interest, sustainable, cost-efficient. They absorb stormwater, mitigate urban heat island effect. It is generally accepted that “It is a lot pleasanter, and a lot cheaper, to prevent these [mental or physical health] ailments and even cure them in their early stages by getting back at regular intervals to the peace and quiet of the tall trees, the lakes and rivers, the mountains of our wilderness areas, rather than wait until a real illness develops”. (1) Correctly applied, salutogenic design will be a powerful force for future urban health.

1. Selhub EM, Logan AC. Your brain on nature : The science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness and vitality. Somerset, United States: Wiley; 2012.