by Emma DeCamp, Research Associate
A couple weeks back I listened to three panelists share their perspectives on resilient design at the Bay Area Metro Center. Rupal Sanghvi’s speech particularly resonated with me. Sanghvi founded HealthxDesign, a public health studio, which leverages design strategies to improve community health and preparedness
Sanghvi sees decision-making about the built environment as a public health intervention. To develop her theory, she shared a startling quote — American life expectancy is lower compared to other developed countries — and inferred that this phenomenon is partially due to our lifestyles and the physical spaces we occupy.
I thought of a lush urban park as the exemplar of Sanghvi’s vision: trails teeming with walkers and runners, ponds stocked with neon orange fish, rippling from the aggressive pedaling of toddlers in the driver’s seat of paddle boats.
I thought about the multiple ways parks increase well-being, of people and nature. Although often appreciated for providing recreational space, parks also build resiliency. Park trees and shrubs sequester carbon and reduce surface water run-off, protecting the land against the stresses of climate change. Parks also have the capacity to build community and solidify a local sense of place. The more connected community members feel to each other and their local landscape, the more motivated they will be to work together to protect it.
Sanghvi advocated for urban forestry and neighborhood garden initiatives. From each of the resilient design ideas she posed, the potential for environments to facilitate social connection emerged as the most powerful theme for me. I began to brainstorm about the unique assets of an environment that foster connection and knowledge-sharing.
Safe, connected streets with bike lanes and clean, efficient public transit systems
Community centers with space for education, performance, art, and recreation
Urban retirement homes to reverse the paradigm of displacing elderly people to remote locations for extended care, and instead, keeping them involved in and connected to communities
Community projects that combine interests like a shared organic garden or art project, such as the neighborhood collaborative 16th Avenue Tiled Steps project in San Francisco’s Sunset District
The key here, I think, is creating spaces that choreograph social interactions… between café-goers, grocery-shoppers, gym-junkies and yogis, tourists and locals, rushed walkers and leisurely strollers. A connected community is healthier and better equipped to collaborate and problem-solve in the event of a public emergency or natural disaster. Sanghvi’s interdisciplinary health and design mission disrupts conventional ways of thinking about public health and provides valuable insight into how to build thriving, resilient communities that can adapt to and overcome the challenges of a changing climate.
Emma DeCamp is a Junior Research Associate at MKThink. She helps strategy teams better understand the cultural and environmental variables at play in their projects. Right now, she is working to build resiliency though design at the San Francisco Zoo. She received her BA in Environmental Studies from Middlebury College.