As we ramp up our new Healthful City initiative at the Urban Design Studio we want to start exploring what a city designed to improve people’s health might look like. So on a beautiful, warm Saturday in the middle of September we kicked things off with our first workshop at the studio in the Portland neighborhood. I mention the quality of the day because the 24 people (max capacity) who showed up to participate could have spent three hours on a Saturday doing almost anything else but they chose to join us and be a part of working to improve our city.

The purpose of the initial workshop was to start a dialog about city design and health, exploring potential demonstration projects, research, problems with current city design, creative placemaking opportunities, and public engagement around ideas initially focusing on downtown as a living laboratory for innovation.

During the workshop we questioned how to build public support and awareness around a healthy city, what a city designed around health looks like at the block and neighborhood scale, how we can foster critical collaboration across various disciplines, particularly in public health and the design community. We also started thinking about how to get businesses and institutions involved. With those questions in mind we looked at them through the lens of technology, art and design, creating experiences and events, policies and initiatives, and marketing and outreach.

Teams were broken up into groups to begin ideation process

The participants were broken up into five tables or teams that progressed through the day developing ideas. Over the course of three hours some themes began to emerge from the team discussions as well as through our later review of all the ideas left on the cutting room floor so to speak. Part of the process of the workshop was rapid idea generation at each table. In total there were over 260 ideas generated, roughly 52 ideas per table. Each team ultimately honed in on three ideas to develop further and later present to all the attendees.

Multiple groups focused on school and school age children, from taking a fresh look at how our children get to and from school, making them safer and healthier, to integrating health and city design into the curriculum. Questions arose of how we could improve the current school bus system with an eye to electric vehicles, how to incentivize walking and cycling to school again, what implications school location has for the surrounding community, and how to engage students on these issues.

The school bus has changed very little in a very long time

Along the same lines were thoughts on how to make Louisville a more child-oriented city. There has been a growing shift in thinking around the city from Gil Penalosa’s 8-80 Cities with the idea that if you design a city that works for people who are 8 years old and 80 years old then you will be creating a city that works and can be enjoyed by everyone. There are many avenues to explore when we take this approach from slower traffic speeds, to how we think about public spaces, encouraging play, not just in far off playgrounds, but throughout the city.

Prototype short-side soccer field in an underutilized lot at ReSurfaced in 2016

Building on transportation, some groups gravitated towards ideas of how to improve public transportation and make it more accessible and attractive as a regular mode of transportation to more people. There were several threads associated with how our city deals with parking and how revenue from parking fees could better benefit the areas the meters were located through public space health, safety and beautification improvements. Ideas developed around improved crosswalks and on street design projects that would bring some vibrancy to the streetscape while elevating the pedestrian experience. It was noted that places just across the river like New Albany are already doing these artistic crosswalks, or lighted crosswalks in Clarksville and it is time we do more.

Decorative crosswalk in New Albany, IN

There was a great focus on the community and its role in building a healthy city. Important emphasis was placed on how this initiative can develop and provide the tools and materials the average citizen can use in a way that is straightforward and clear, avoiding professional jargon, while providing concrete examples of why this effort is important and some relatable best practices to build upon. There were some initial discussions around ways to develop events and activities that bring local residents together in neighborhoods across the city to identify the issues they are facing in fun ways that strengthen community networks and get everyone involved.

A good number of ideas circled issues of trees and green spaces, how to better take care of what we have, and the need to increase and connect those amenities particularly in the urban core, from temporary prototyping and activations of public spaces to multi-disciplinary design competitions. Through the Healthful City initiative at the Urban Design Studio, we will look at many of these ideas and others that came out of the workshop to figure out ways to move them forward over the next several months.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the workshop which will be just the first in many opportunities to engage in efforts to improve the design, and in turn, health of our city. Special thanks to the Green District for their generous support of this initiative and providing a healthy lunch for the workshop attendees. Jordan Doepke, Green District’s co-founder and CEO, was not only on hand to talk a bit about why they are supporting the Healthful City initiative, but also participated in the workshop. We look forward to working with Jordan and Green District more in the future.

Through the Healthful City we want to use the next several months to unlock the ideas to not only make a healthier city, but use this opportunity to catalyze innovation in the design and function of our built and natural environments. There will be more ways to engage and news about additional efforts very soon. We can learn from people all over the world on topics of city design and health, and will want to bring some folks in to share what they know, but we also have the talent, creativity and desire in and around our own community to really make a positive difference.