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Constructing the Good Life? Promoting Health and Well-Being Through Community Design

Jul 27, 2018
Chantal Edwards  Chantal Edwards
Research Intern
Thy Dinh 
Health Economics and Policy
Monika Slovinec D’Angelo  Monika Slovinec D’Angelo
Principal Research Associate
Workplace Health and Wellness Research

We may be living longer, but are we living better? In 2017, Canada spent an estimated $242 billion on health care. Health and well-being are two factors that can impact quality of life. Well-being is a complex concept because it is influenced by myriad social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political factors. Across all, reduced access to resources or exposure to adverse challenges can compromise individual well-being.

Research has established clear connections between the built environment and aspects of health and wellness. To support well-being and promote healthier lifestyle choices, community design features can be used to encourage individuals to engage in physical activity, adopt prosocial behaviour, and eat nutritious food. A recent report by Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, titled Designing Healthy Living, raises awareness about the built environment’s influence on health and well-being. In the report, Dr. Tam states that almost one-quarter of the Canadian population over the age of 18 is at risk of developing a chronic illness such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer because of obesity.1 Dr. Tam linked the rise in obesity to increased urban sprawl, which leads to sedentary behaviours due to poor community design.2

To provide insight into how the built environment influences well-being, The Conference Board of Canada partnered with DIALOG to publish Community Wellbeing: A Framework for the Design Professions. The goal of this work was to create a framework that design professionals, including urban planners, architects, landscape architects, interior designers, and engineers, could use to understand and leverage this thinking into their work from conception to evaluation. The tool, referred to as the Community Wellbeing Framework (see Exhibit), is intended to guide the design of the built environment to enhance the quality of where people live, work, learn, and play by encouraging conversations about how to design for well-being and by facilitating ensuing decisions related to the design of buildings and spaces. The Framework is also suitable for use by other stakeholders,including public health practitioners.

The Framework consists of five domains related to the social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political conditions that influence individual evaluations of well-being. The social domain refers to opportunities created by the community that allow the individual to participate in community life. The environmental domain refers to design features oriented at sustaining and enhancing natural systems, such as by improving air quality and maintaining biodiversity. The economic domain focuses on creating design projects that promote equitable and sustainable communities. The cultural domain is aimed at discovering ways the built environment can be used to promote cultural activity. Lastly, the political domain aims to provide individuals with opportunities to become stewards of their communities and, by extension, of their personal well-being.Each domain is defined by a set of indicators, which are qualified and quantified by metrics developed to assess each indicator. The Framework contains a total of 18 indicators and 48 metrics.

What’s Next for the Community Wellbeing Framework?

The Community Wellbeing Framework is the first of its kind. Thus,it will continue to be refined as it is applied to design projects in the field. Currently, the Framework has been applied to three Canadian design projects, which are the Durham Regional Police Complex, the Kahanoff Centre/Decidedly Jazz Danceworks project in Calgary, and The Banks project in Saskatoon. The findings from these case applications will be published at a later date.

As part of the current trial phase, we encourage a broad application of the Framework and ask that users share their experiences with us, as it is the intent of both the Conference Board and DIALOG to continue to develop and refine the Framework through further research, pilot projects, and the input of other users. In particular, we are looking for additional insights and perspectives, including those from the lenses of accessibility, mental health, and Indigenous communities. Please contact Thy Dinh by phone at 613-526-3090 ext. 440 or by e-mail at

Related Conference

Thinking About Infrastructure 2018 and Beyond
October 24–25, 2018 in Ottawa ON

1    Public Health Agency of Canada, The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2017: Designing Healthy Living (Ottawa: October 2017), accessed July 27, 2018.

2    Ibid.

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