Banking on Health - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Banking on Health

There’s a historic bank in Woodlawn that’s been vacant for decades. As we launch a three-part participatory planning process to guide the structure’s future, we’re anchoring the conversation around health for the first time. Here’s why.

Design features such as lighting, air flow and gathering space can improve happiness, respiratory outcomes and social interaction.

How can a building affect your health?

It’s not always obvious, but the way a building is designed, both inside and outside, can have a large effect on a person's or community’s health. Indoor design features such as lighting, artwork, air flow and open stairways improve mental health, respiratory health and obesity rates. Outdoor design features such as trees and good lighting increase happiness, air quality and safety. Even the building’s use makes a difference to health! For example, adding a public gathering space offers a sense of community connectedness.

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Chicago Department of Public Health

Design elements that influence health.

Knowing this, how would you redesign the building you live or work in?

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), the Cook County Land Bank Authority (CCLBA), and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) want to give residents the opportunity to design a building with health in mind. This winter, we are facilitating a participatory planning process for a building in Chicago’s Woodlawn community, owned by CCLBA. This process, called a Corridor Development Initiative, invites residents to proactively plan for real-world development scenarios.

The CDI in Woodlawn is different from any that we have done before. This time around, we are partnering with CDPH to bring health priorities into the conversation. Chicago’s Health in All Policies Taskforce recently identified incorporating high-priority health criteria into requests for proposals for publically-funded projects as an action item. Recognizing the ways that a physical structure has the ability to improve or worsen health, MPC and CDPH agreed to work together to facilitate the planning process with CCLBA, who will ultimately issue an RFP for the building’s development. This is a great opportunity to tangibly help a property owner integrate health priorities into a development—something that both MPC and CDPH have wanted to do for some time.

So, how exactly are we going to assess health throughout the process? Below are the steps we have taken so far, and plan to take throughout the rest of the Woodlawn CDI: 

  1. The team looked at publically available health data and other sources to get a picture of the current health status of the community.
  2. The team presented some key data points to community leaders prior to the first CDI meeting to get input on what residents consider the most important outcomes are priorities. We heard that mental health, safety (violence), social connection, exposure to toxic building materials and access to care were some of the most important concerns for the community.
  3. At the first CDI meeting, we will ask residents about these health priorities, and incorporate additional ideas. We will also share information about how certain building elements can help address certain health outcomes. For example, how outdoor lighting can improve safety, or how creating public gathering space in the building or on the property can increase a sense of social connection.
  4. In meeting two, residents will work with architects to come up with possible development scenarios, ideas that the architects will informally sketch. Between meeting two and three, the team will conduct rapid health impact reviews on the resident-created development scenarios. CDPH and MPC will analyze and compare how each scenario would affect certain health outcomes.
  5. In meeting three, we will present to participants our analysis about how each scenario affects health. Residents and the property’s owner can then use this to help make decisions about which development options they would like to pursue.

It is MPC's hope that this collaborative process will support Woodlawn residents in designing a building that makes 63rd & Cottage Grove feel happier and healthier. We hope this exciting partnership will serve as a case study for further collaboration, and a first step in creating a process for making healthier development decisions across our city! 

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