Now is the time. Childhood obesity surges to epidemic proportions, healthcare costs push even higher and divisive politics provide no solutions. Meanwhile an interdisciplinary profession continues to rise offering solutions to these stark problems:
Two out of every three American adults twenty years or older are overweight or obese (Flegal, 2010).
Since 2000, antidepressants have become the most prescribed medication in the United States (Olfson and Marcus, 2009).
In 2007, 16 percent of the United State’s gross domestic product – $2.3 trillion – was spent on health care (Orszag and Ellis, 2007).
Landscape architects will join across the country during the month of April to educate the public as to how their profession is well poised to address these troubling issues.They’ll hold public events showcasing just what can be done through hands on work with the public, speaking engagements and design charrettes. For an idea, check out this slideshow of 2011’s events.
With the theme of Public Health and Landscape Architecture, National Landscape Architecture Month 2012 welcomes these new and necessary discussions about the profession. Besides all the same great activities from years past, National Landscape Architecture Month joins in the public awareness campaign. On 04.26.12, the profession will publicly celebrate Frederick Olmsted’s birthday, considered the founder of modern landscape architecture, by once again taking to the streets from coast to coast telling people why landscape architecture matters just as they did on 08.17.11. Since 08.17.11 was just the beginning, expect more this time around. The call to celebrate his birthday could not be more in line with the theme as Frederick Law Olmsted and the Campaign for Public Health points out, Olmsted’s roots in landscape architecture first started with his dedication to public health.
The prevalence of low-density, automobile-dependent communities has resulted in unsustainable lifestyles that increasingly threaten human health and well-being. In addition to inflating housing and transportation costs and increasing carbon emissions, disconnected communities reliant on cars create sedentary lifestyles. The lack of access to environments that encourage daily exercise, provide clean air and water and offer affordable services and nutritious food has meant growing epidemics of depression, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.
Working with landscape architects, communities can promote human health and well-being by encouraging the development of environments that offer rich social, economic, and environmental benefits. Healthy, livable communities improve the welfare and well-being of people by expanding the range of affordable transportation, employment, and housing choices through “Live, Work, Play” developments; incorporating physical activity into components of daily life; preserving and enhancing valuable natural resources; providing access to affordable, nutritious, and locally produced foods distributed for less cost; and creating a unique sense of community and place.
Landscape architects help communities maximize opportunities for daily exercise like walking and biking. Landscape architects encourage communities to move towards compact, transit-oriented land-uses by designing Complete Streets and other transportation networks that connect mixed-use developments, neighborhood schools, and a range of affordable housing choices. They assist communities in developing healthy green buildings and open spaces that promote efficient water and energy use and provide substantial amounts of vegetation to clean air and cool temperatures. In doing so, these communities can avoid the expensive health epidemics associated with automobile dependence, sedentary lifestyles, along with the high costs to the environment brought by dysfunctional patterns of living.
Public Health & Community Design
With health epidemics associated with sprawl on the rise, there is growing demand for communities that get people moving and reduce the onslaught of depression, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. Communities can also be designed to reduce traffic fatalities and crime rates. When communities take these issues seriously, they become people-friendly places that promote healthy living and feel safe and secure.
A recent study from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute demonstrates that people who “drive less, exercise more, and live longer, and are generally healthier than residents of communities without high-quality public transportation.” Lansdcape architects design multi-modal sustainable transportation infrastructure such as public transit, which force people to walk and climb stairs, and well-lit, tree-lined streets with sidewalks and bike lanes, which enable safe and convenient physical activity. These systems provide healthy alternatives to automobile transportation. In addition, landscape architects create parks, green streets, and even green roofs, which encourage physical activity by making outdoor spaces more attractive, cooler, with cleaner air.
Communities can also invest in healthy green schools built along new and improved transportation infrastructure and connected to neighborhoods via sidewalks, bike trails, transit service, and roadways that provide safe routes to school. Landscape architects design green school campuses with indoor and outdoor learning environments, which are also available for community activities.
In addition, landscape architects work with communities to create urban agriculture projects that provide access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food that is locally produced and distributed. These initiatives make productive use of vacant lots and derelict spaces, transforming them into safe environments for youth education and community interaction. They can provide resources for green hospitals where studies have shown that organic food gardens help patients recover faster.