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INSIGHTS


bored on every-day journeys? Could adventure areas be designed into streets to encourage walking and play?” And, with reference to the ageing population: “How far away are we from a town where more older people live independently and safely in their own home, backed by better technology and social support?”


Joining things up


HNT intersects with the built environment most saliently through its push for a much more interconnected healthcare offering, making services of prevention and care more effective as well as accessible to the user. Vital opportunities to establish cutting-edge healthcare mecha- nisms have been identified in new housing developments, with ‘joining-up’ the key theme. For example, construction of multi- generational housing is intended to provide a platform to connect older and younger generations, combatting problems associated with social isolation. Designing ‘care’ into housing to prepare properties for certain demographic inevitabilities is also on high priority. This includes ensuring every part of the building is highly accessible to those with disabilities, and fitting them with tools and facilities as a means of moving care into the home. Beyond housing, the scheme encompasses a focus on more joined-up healthcare provision locally. In an article published by the Design Council, Danny McDonnell, strategy programme manager for HNT, wrote: “an example of re-designed service provi- sion is a diabetes clinic running alongside occupational therapy, dietetics and diabetes support services to enable diabetic patients to receive much of the treatment and support they need in one place on the same day.”


Joined-up approaches point not only towards co-location of our healthcare facilities, but they also stress the role workspaces play in health for our towns – said to heighten levels of community engagement, eliminate the ills of daily commuting, and improve mental health in general.


Going digital


Digital technologies also play a pivotal role in HNT. With the internet having ushered in an era of hyperconnectivity, the benefits need to be harnessed to help consolidate healthcare processes and make them more efficient, say the scheme’s proponents. Mario Bozzo, director of IBI Group, the key design advisors for the overall HNT scheme, endorses technology as a “key enabler to improving health outcomes” through transforming the delivery of health and social care.


IBI Group has identified a three layered approach to “digital maturity”, based, first and foremost, on infrastructure, such as 5G connection and system integration with digital applications and tools, all governed with strong leadership to encourage readiness and participation in the local population. Digital healthcare services like telecare, telehealth, telemedicine, and e-health could then be rolled out to expand communities’ access to services. ‘Disruptive’ technologies such as the Internet of Things could be implemented to enhance people’s security and control over utilities, allowing them even to self-diagnose, self-monitor, and even self-care. At a recent conference, Bozzo cited influence from tech giants like Google Labs, “building communities from the internet-up,” acknowledging the ever increasing presence of digital technology in people’s lives.


Pilot regeneration


In terms of scale, Halton Lea at Runcorn, a pre-existing new town, is one of the more modest pilot schemes in the Healthy New Towns initiative. The mixed-use brownfield development and regeneration project aspires to form a new community hub and bring 800 new homes to the area.


Philip Liu of Citiesmode was project lead on the winning submission for Halton’s design innovation challenge – Halton Connected – which encouraged practices to spur new ideas and recommendations for implementing HNT’s values on the ground. Liu recollects his first visit to the site, where he saw a community


already “designed very much in the ‘new town’ form - residential neighbourhoods appeared disconnected from the shopping centre, set within network of paths (many of them elevated) where pedes- trians are separated from cars.”


“The key thing that we realised was that this ‘disconnection’ was not just physical, but also in the sense of place for people living in the area – a mental disconnection from place,” Liu explains.


An extension of the ‘joining-up’ theme, part of Citiesmode’s design recommendations were connecting a nursery with a farm to increase dietary awareness among children, as well as multi- generational housing bringing the young and the elderly together.


The NHS having more interest in planning is certainly a welcome development for bringing health back into planning


Challenges


Despite the benefits, the programme inevitably throws up questions. With any such initiative, stakeholders are diverse abundant, while the decision-making frameworks they inhabit in constant redefinition and expansion. Can the ‘hyper-democracy’ of considering every need and desire of local interest groups, developers, and government co-exist with the drive to deliver the sorely-needed housing numbers?


Given that most HNT developments are founded using private capital and expertise, on publicly-owned land, will this mean more privatisation of public assets? Also, with the question of individual health raising issues of personal choice, does HNT’s attempt to shape residents’ transgress into a problematic paternalistic territory? One thing is certain, Healthy New Towns has been formulated with the best intentions. Its bold initiatives present a highly inter- disciplinary and participatory solution to a complex set of problems affecting millions in the UK. For architects and planners, it brings concerted masterplanning to the forefront, highlighting the significance of design decisions in how people live their lives day to day.


Liu concludes: “What has happened in recent decades is that planners have focused on building houses, and any thinking on the health and wellbeing of the people living in these new homes and communities has fallen by the wayside. The NHS having more interest in planning is certainly a welcome development for bringing health back into planning.” 


23


ADF FEBRUARY 2018


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