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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

Show Me the Money: Finding Funds for Healthier Design

People young and old, urban and rural, are making it clear that they want their surroundings to promote healthy living, not discourage it. And builders are taking notice.

That trend is behind CHI’s continuing look into the connection between health and the “built environment” — the buildings, roads and physical surroundings that make up our communities. This week, we’re diving into dollars and cents — the financial incentives that promote the connection between well-built and well-being.

City planners, health advocates, architects, politicians and others are increasingly concerned with how to integrate elements of healthy living into new developments as well as neglected places poised for a facelift. 

Communities provide parks and green spaces as a respite from expanses of concrete, and they strive to ensure that biking and walking paths are well maintained and brightly lit so they are functional and safe. The most desirable apartment complexes for millennials and others feature gyms, gardens, yoga studios and healthy food available nearby. 

But while it’s nice to build things that make people feel happy and healthy, bottom lines can’t be ignored. Developers want to keep costs in line. Communities want to prioritize projects that can actually get funded.

This makes a collaborative approach to financing crucial.

In the second installment of the “Better by Design” series, that collaborative approach is reflected in our profile of the National Western Center, an ambitious project costing more than $1 billion that will house the National Western Stock Show and feature amenities to promote the health of visitors and nearby residents. We also look at examples of “carrots” for encouraging health-oriented developments, such as tax breaks and relief from red tape. And we explain business improvement districts, which more cities are using to make their downtowns cleaner, greener and more attractive.

I first became interested in the link between the built environment and health when taking a graduate class, “Downtown and Urban Revitalization,” taught by Paul Levy, the President and CEO of Philadelphia’s Center City District

It was inspiring to see the outsized impact of small changes imagined by Paul in remaking downtown Philly’s image. From landscaping to street cleaning to better directional signage, that city has rapidly become a better place to walk, visit and play. Bigger projects, like the complete reconstruction of the plaza next to Philadelphia’s City Hall, attracted dollars from diverse sources to support the public good. I see many of the same tactics gaining momentum here in Denver.

Watch for more chapters in our series. Maggie Bailey, CHI’s Public Interest Fellow, and I will look at food access, transportation and housing. We’re only scratching the surface, but we believe these topics are critical to consider as we work to build better health.