Building Healthy Places

G l o b a l l y,health is b e coming a growing c o n c e r n w i t h increasing incidences of illnesses such as heart d i s e a s e , d i a b e t e s ,obesity, asthma and allergy. These chronic diseases are projected to result in 52 million deaths by 2030 1(Building Healthy Places Toolkit, Urban Land Institute 2015). In the US, one of three is obese, and annual medical  costs associated with obesity amount to $147 billion. To address the worsening state of human health, the Urban Land Institute chose to focus on healthy communities as a theme for the organization. The ULI is the most trusted real estate think-tank in the world, with its main objective of leadership in the responsible use of land. The Building Healthy Places Initiative was launched as a global campaign among its 33,000 members that include developers, investors and advisers, urban planners, architects and designers, brokers, lawyers and public officials.

ULI Philippines, led by our chairman Charlie Rufino, recently held a whole-day Health and Resilience Workshop with 100 participants in Bonifacio Global City. The morning sessions aimed to increase awareness and get recommendations from the people who live and work in BGC on how to make their community more healthy.

How about eating our street landscaping? I took this photo in England. All the plants in the photo are edible.Caption
I spoke about urban planning initiatives targeted towards building healthy communities. Our built environments have a direct influence on people’s lifestyle choices as well as their health and wellbeing. With that, buildings and communities should be planned to encourage people to be active, be in touch with nature, and have access to fresh food.



Each hour we spend sitting through traffic in a car is associated with a six percent increase in the likelihood of obesity, while each kilometer traveled by walking reduces this probability by 4.8 percent 2(Frank, L. et al. “Obesity Relationships with Community Design, Physical Activity, and Time Physical Activity, and Time Spent in Cars,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2004).We need to shift the mindset in terms of mobility, from counting how many people we move down the street, instead of how many cars. To do this, we need to provide facilities – such as walkways and protected bike lanes – to encourage moving through our streets. This also helps ease traffic congestion.

 Communities that enable people to live, work, learn and play within the same vicinity reduce the reliance on cars and open up opportunities for walking and cycling. A rich mix of activities entices people to go to the streets since it has been found that people walk more if they can cluster trips and have interesting things (and people) to look at.


Public open spaces enable people to have access to nature even in highly urbanized areas. The presence of parks and greenery compensate for oxygen loss, thus improving overall air quality. Parks also serve as venues for recreational and physical activities. They should be easily accessible and available every 400 meters, taking into consideration the walking threshold of Filipinos.

Eduardo Yap, president of the Rotary Club of Makati, discussed the importance of monitoring air quality. Metro Manila is one of the few capital cities in the world that does not measure air quality. How can we then manage what we cannot measure?

He suggests the installation of monitoring stations in key locations around Manila, and communicating the air quality health index through broadcast and social media.



Each food item travels about 1,500 miles from the farm to the plate. We need to be able to provide food within close proximity, so we’re not dependent on exported, and often processed food. Urban agriculture cuts food miles, and can be done through edible landscaping in parks and roof gardens.

Healthy food has almost become a luxury in city centers. There are far more fastfood restaurants than stores that sell fresh produce.

As a result not everyone, especially those coming from lower income levels, has the option to eat healthy.

Local governments may provide zoning incentives for businesses in areas identified to be underserved of fresh food. In fact, the City Planning Office of New York gives incentives such as reduction of real estate taxes and parking requirements, as well as additional development area rights to buildings that provide food stores on the ground floor.

These stores are required to allot at least 500 square feet to selling fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. Access to affordable, fresh and healthy food should be made available to everyone across all areas of the community and across all income groups.

The High Line, NYC. Unique conversion of an old railway into a linear park.


Raymond Rufino, chairman of the Philippine Green Building Council, shared the findings of the Better Places for People study by the World Green Building Council. Raymond noted that for most businesses, 90 percent of their operating costs is spent on staff salaries and benefits. Buildings need to be built with more than “green” in mind because benefits are not just savings in energy or rental costs but more so, in improving employee productivity. For example, better indoor air quality is proven to increase productivity by 8-11 percent, and employees that work near windows sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night.



Building healthy communities can be achieved through the partnership of different stakeholders. In community building, development should be centered on creating better places for people with their health and wellbeing at the forefront. There has been a shift in the development approach such that people, instead of profit, is becoming the main objective of the triple bottom line.


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