What role does architecture play in creating healthy societies? According to the National Institutes of Health, health is a balance of complete physical, mental and social well-being. As architects, we have a responsibility to help societies achieve this balance by addressing public health, welfare and safety in the built environment. This responsibility is mandated through our license with the state. And really, this focus on the common good should be top of mind as we plan, design and build better communities.
Sizemore Group was founded in the 1970s as an early proponent of energy efficiency through daylighting. Since then, we’ve been a leader in sustainable architecture, working hand-in-hand with our clients to create businesses, campuses and communities that encourage healthy lifestyle choices, healthy profits and healthy societies.
In 1993, Sizemore Group designed two of the region’s first mixed-use town centers for the cities of Smyrna and Duluth. Both developments became local and national models for creating walkable communities that reduced people’s reliance on single occupancy vehicles, inspired healthier lifestyle choices and yielded financial gains. The success of these projects became a model for the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI), which has planned more than 100 vibrant, active and connected communities in Metro Atlanta.
Today, Sizemore Group is again breaking new ground by designing wellness districts: walkable, mixed-use communities that incorporate hospitals or medical facilities that enable healthy lifestyles. We’re currently leading design efforts for the Medline Corridor in DeKalb County. Anchored by DeKalb Medical, the redevelopment will attract business from the medical industry and encourage lifestyle choices that promote overall wellness.
We’re simultaneously master planning three mixed-use communities in Kennesaw, Woodstock and Town Center/Kennesaw State University that will connect to each other through a pedestrian and bike-friendly green space and trail system, with water quality improvement considerations in nearby creeks. The plan is to connect this path to the Silver Comet Trail, which will link to the Atlanta BeltLine, thereby establishing an unprecedented alternative transportation system from Kennesaw through Atlanta.
We know from studying New York City’s Highline and the Atlanta BeltLine that investments in park-like trail systems are not just good for people; they also yield greater returns on investment and higher profits. Take into consideration the new office spaces along the Atlanta BeltLine, which are leasing 33 percent more quickly than expected – and at 20 percent higher rental rates than those in other areas. And when it comes to retail profit, “healthier” spaces reign supreme. Superstore king Wal-Mart reported higher sales after incorporating daylight into the design of its new stores.
Our society is in a public health crisis. In Georgia, 65 percent of adults and 40 percent of children are overweight or obese. Nationally, obesity leads to 51 percent of deaths, and the average male life expectancy has fallen from 84 to 75. As much as we love the convenience of modern technology, some advances have resulted in an obesogenic environment and lifestyle, where healthy transportation and food are not part of the plan. It’s time we dramatically shift the way we live with an eye toward improving health. Through sustainable planning and design, the built environment can inspire healthy lifestyle choices and contribute to businesses’ bottom lines.
The intersection of health and the built environment is of particular interest to Bill de St. Aubin, CEO of Sizemore Group. A leader in this space, Bill presented an in-depth look at this issue to the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Land Use Committee in May 2014. If you’re interested in learning more, you can reach Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.