Assessing New Development to see how it supports Health and Wellbeing

23 May 2014 | Posted In: #121 Winter 2014, Planning and Built Environment Issues, Public Spaces, | Author: Susan Thompson

Denser residential development and mixed use neighbourhoods are conducive to the creation of walkable suburbs and reduced car dependency in daily life. However, as towns and cities densify we have to be careful that this is done in a way that comprehensively supports health and well-being. It’s important that proposed developments, both small and large, are assessed in terms of how they will help new and existing residents to be healthy. So what is ‘health supportive’ dense development? Here are some questions (and there are no doubt others), from Susan Thompson, to ask at different stages of the planning and development process. The categories and questions are not mutually exclusive and there is considerable crossover between the different issues.

How will this development support physical activity?


Will this be a safe place? Will buildings enable overlooking (or ‘eyes on the street’) of public areas and roadways, especially walking paths, so that people will feel safe in this area?


Are streets designed for people first – and cars last? Is public art included in the design? Is the community involved in the design? Are stairs incorporated into the design?


Does the development have good landscaping plans? Does it make best use of existing environmental features – such as water and topography – to ensure an aesthetically pleasing environment?


Does the development unnecessarily expose users to high noise levels? Does the design take seasonality into account? Is there adequate shade provision to protect users from the hot Australian sun? Are cold wind tunnels avoided? Is there sufficient sunlight in winter with overshadowing caused by tall buildings kept to an acceptable minimum?


Is open space close by (a 400m easy walk)? Is the amount and size of open space areas adequate for the proposed population? Are open space areas well linked to each other, particularly enabling access by walking and cycling? Do they look attractive and well designed? Are the open spaces appropriate for the community who will use them? Are dog parks proposed? Are they easy to access by walking and cycling paths that link to residential areas?


Is there provision of adequate infrastructure to support physical activity?

For bikes – are there separated lanes; if shared lanes, are they of adequate width and safe; is bicycle parking secured, covered and well lit at night?

For car share spaces – are they adequate and easy to access?

Public transport – is the provision adequate and is the proposed development well linked to existing and new public transport?


Will the development create a walkable environment for new and existing residents as well as a wide range of people regardless of abilities? See BOX: What is a Walkable Place?


Are daily activities within walking and biking distance? Will it be easy to get to places without a car? Will reliable and safe public transport be close by and easy to get to?

How will this development support social connection in the community?


Will people feel safe in this development/community? Is there sufficient provision for street lighting? Are the designs creating opportunities to get more “eyes on the street” day and night? Is there sufficient attention to pedestrian safety?


Are public spaces designed so that they are integral to the development and wider neighbourhood? Is there adequate and suitable provision of landscaping? Are there facilities to encourage sitting, looking, meeting friends? Is the space well shaded in summer and does it have adequate sunlight in winter? Will it be easy for all members of the community to use this space? Are there opportunities for community involvement in the ongoing creation of the public space? What about public art? What about social and community programs that will work in conjunction with the public space drawing people out of their homes and into the wider neighbourhood?

How will this development support access to healthy food?


Are supermarkets selling a variety of foods planned? Are there cafés and outdoor eating opportunities? Are liquor/fast food/convenience stores balanced with healthier eating options and a good distance away from local schools?


Is there provision for community gardens and urban agriculture in streets and open spaces as appropriate? Are there public spaces that are not used on the weekends that can accommodate a farmers’ market?

Susan Thompson is an urban planner. She holds the positions of Associate Professor in the Planning and Urban Development Program and Associate Director (Healthy Built Environments) City Futures Research Centre, Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of New South Wales. 

For more information about healthy built environments see the companion article Creating healthy built environments

Further reading can be found on these websites: