Health and the Built Environment

What is the built environment? 

The "built environment" includes the human-made design, and layout of the communities in which people live, work and play. 

The built environment is made up of:

  • Neighbourhoods;
  • Homes;
  • Workplaces;
  • Schools;
  • Shops and services;
  • Sidewalks and bike paths;
  • Streets and transit networks;
  • Green spaces, parks and playgrounds;
  • Buildings and other infrastructure;
  • Food systems (the path that food travels from field to fork: the growing, harvesting, processing, transporting, marketing, consuming, and disposing of food).

How does the built environment impact health?

Changes to our physical world can lead to better or worse personal health.

The built environment can affect our behaviours and how we feel.  For example, well-designed communities that make it easy to access healthy food and get around by transit, foot or bicycle can contribute to better health and happiness.

A healthy built environment can:

  • Promote being active, eating healthy and other healthy habits;
  • Encourage social connectedness;
  • Prevent injuries and promote safety;
  • Improve air, water and soil quality;
  • Provide access to natural and green spaces;
  • Ensure all members of the community have good opportunities to be healthy regardless of their age, income level, gender, ethnic background, or any other social or economic reasons.

What makes a healthy built environment?

Healthy communities can help create environments for all people to thrive and live their lives to the fullest. They can also make the healthy choice the easy choice for all residents. 

The 5C’s of healthy communities are some community design features that promote healthy built environments.

Healthy communities are:

  • Compact and Complete
    • A diverse and compact mix of housing options for all ages and incomes, shops and services, access to healthy food options, schools, employment, good public transit, and open green spaces can promote walking and social connectedness. 
  • Connected
    • Safe, complete streets and good transportation networks that promote walking, cycling and transit use make it easy and pleasant to get around.
  • Cool
    • Parks, trees and green spaces provide shade to improve air quality, make the community  cooler, and promote active living and positive mental health. 
  • Convivial
    • Attractive and lively public and community spaces where people can easily connect with each other and day-to-day services make communities vibrant and livable. 

The built environment is shaped by policies and regulations, planners, engineers, developers, governments, elected officials and engaged community members.  

Ottawa Public Health has released two videos to raise awareness of the link between health and the built environment and highlight how residents can get involved to make changes in their communities.  


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