Promoting Healthy Lifestyles Through Landscape Architecture

By Keith Billick

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles Through Landscape Architecture
What makes a neighborhood or community encourage people to be active? How do you get people off the couch to take a stroll to the park, or to hop on their bike in the morning to head to work? You have to think holistically about how you want people to move around; this begins with the project concept.

Giving residents a reason to be outside. You have to design the project so that it encourages people to be active. Give residents a reason to be outside. Consider landscape architecture as the bridge between urban planning and architecture. It’s the Landscape Architect’s job to make sure that all the elements of a neighborhood, the infrastructure (roads and sidewalks), the environment (parks and plazas), and the buildings all work in concert together.

So, how do you design a community in a way that gives a person reasons to be active?

  • Mix uses.
  • Design on a human scale.
  • Build what people want.
  • Create connections between spaces and places.

Mix Uses

Most communities use single-use zoning. Single-Use Zoning means carving land into big chunks that can only be used for one thing, like a huge housing subdivision or an office park. That means that people end up living far away from where they shop, play, eat and work.

Mixing uses means designing a neighborhood where people can live close to places to shop, play, eat and work. People live within a few blocks of restaurants and parks, instead of a few miles away. Include mixed-use buildings that have both retail and residential. Include small parks. That means it only takes a few minutes on a bike or on foot to go somewhere interesting.

Design on a Human Scale

Design on a human scaleDesign places that people feel comfortable in. Designing on a human scale means thinking about how a space will feel for a pedestrian, or cyclist.

To get people to walk make sure you have wide sidewalks that aren’t right next to fast-moving cars. Don’t put in plazas that are mostly empty space, they’re boring and nobody will use them. Use benches, trees, plantings and other creative design elements to make people feel welcome. Make sure commercial buildings are interesting and inviting on their ground floor to pedestrians. Activate the space. Create opportunities for people to interact and people watch.

Make sure that you think of how bikers are going to be incorporated from the start. Design lanes and paths for bikes that help riders of all skill levels feel safe. Make sure bike racks are readily available. Prominent bike infrastructure encourages people to dust off their Schwinn’s and start riding.

Walking or biking should feel like the default choice.

Build What People Want

If you put a playground in a retirement community it’s not going to get a lot of use. A neighborhood full of cat owners isn’t going to get excited over a dog park. Don’t include elements that residents won’t use. Do include elements residents will use.

Create Connections

Creating connections with landscape architectureLast, but definitely not least; make sure that all the elements of the design are well connected to each other. This includes making sure the entire community is accessible with sidewalks and paths. Don’t create walls or artificial barriers between the mixed-uses in the neighborhood. Don’t isolate or separate the neighborhood and its surroundings, either! Use gateways and signage to showcase what’s interesting in the neighborhood. The different elements in a mixed-use community should invite people in.

Bringing It All Together

All of these elements are necessary. In order to get people active you have to give them a reason to be active (Build What People Want), make sure it’s close enough to choose an active way to get there (Mix Uses), provide ways to get there (Create Connections), and design spaces and pathways so that people feel invited to use them (Design on a Human Scale). Think of it like a pizza, without the marinara, the dough, or the cheese it’s not a pizza. And like a pizza when you combine all these ingredients you end up with something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Keith Billick, LA
Keith Billick, LA
Keith's LinkedIn Profile
  In my experience, Landscape Architecture goes beyond flower garden and backyard design; it includes the visioning and design for neighborhoods, cities and regions. Because the profession touches so many types of places and spaces, I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects ranging from urban design, master planning, community/regional planning and traditional landscape design.

I enjoy the collaborative and challenging aspects of discovering a design solution that meets my clients' specific needs. This collaborative process from concept to implementation leads to innovative and uniquely-suited solutions. It is personally satisfying knowing that I've added value to each of my clients' projects.

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