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Healthy Built Environment

The Population and Public Health program strives to support the creation of built environments that can support physical, mental, and social health and well-being.

To access any of our Health Built Environment documents, please see the Reports & resources tab. 


What is the healthy built environment?

The phrase "built environment" refers to the human-made or modified physical surroundings in which people live, work, and play. These include our homes, schools, workplaces, public spaces like parks and recreational areas as well as broader service networks such as our transportation and food systems.  The concept of “built environments” can refer to areas of varying scope such as a large-scale urban plan or a site specific development.

We can think of healthy built environments as a holistic concept including the five core planning realms below.  This conceptual framework is described further in the Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit:

  1. Neighbourhood Design
  2. Housing
  3. Transportation Systems
  4. Natural Environments
  5. Food Systems

Built environments can support physical, mental and social health & well-being

How neighbourhoods are planned and built has a direct impact on the physical, mental, and social health of its residents. These population health impacts can be described through indicators such as level of social cohesion, mental and physical fitness, chronic disease, healthy weights, and injury rates,  For example, making active transportation convenient and safe has been shown to increase physical activity, which is in turn linked to decreased unintentional injuries, improved mental health, social connectivity and healthy weights. 

Healthier built environments are a shared responsibility

Community planners and design professionals, public health practitioners and local governments all have a role in promoting well-being and preventing illness and injury through the built environment. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that population health impacts are considered in decisions which impact the planning and design of local neighbourhoods. The Population & Public health team collaborates with diverse stakeholders in order to support the inclusion of health considerations within community planning and design processes.

Our activities

We improve the understanding of healthy built environment across sectors.

The Population & Public health team (PPH) collaborates with diverse stakeholders in order to support the inclusion of health considerations within community planning and design processes.

A key factor in the success of healthy built environment collaborative initiatives is shared understanding of the important influence that our environment has on population health, and the role each stakeholder has to play. 

PPH coordinates the BC Healthy Built Environment Alliance (HBEA), a cross-sectoral of leaders interested in professional development and collaborative action for healthier, more livable communities. HBEA membership includes regional health authorities, Ministry of Health, local governments, planners and community organizations. 

PPH has developed resources for health professionals, community planners and local governments so that they are better equipped to promote healthier built environments.  For example, "Health 201" is a step-by-step guide that supports planners, design professionals and local governments to take actions towards creating healthier built environments. For audiences new to healthy built environment issues, the Foundations for a Healthier Built Environment summary report is an introductory educational resource.

As an on-going contribution, PPH leads efforts to review and synthesize current research in order to continually expand our understanding of how the built environment influences population health. The medium that we use to summarize the body of research evidence is the "Healthy Built Environments Linkages Toolkit"

Using an evidence based approach, the healthy built environment Toolkit outlines a series of planning principles and describes how these lead to behavioural and environmental impacts (e.g., walking, transit use, noise levels, and traffic safety) correlated to specific population health outcomes.  

Reports & resources

The Evolution of BC's Healthy Built Environment Teams

After over 11 years of operation, BC’s Healthy Built Environment HBE) teams across the province came together to reflect on the process of their evolution, their strengths and the different challenges they have encountered, and where best to direct their energy and resources in order to continue moving the HBE agenda forward. This project was initiated with the goal of creating institutional memory as to how HBE work has evolved in the health authorities, and identifying how this work can best be supported going forward. Released: July 2018

  • Final report

Healthy Built Environment Linkages: A toolkit for design, planning, & health

A groundbreaking evidence-based and expert-informed resource that links planning principles to health outcomes. Audience: Anyone involved in work that affects the built environment; Released: May, 2018

Archived versions of the HBE linkages toolkit:

Health 201: A knowledge-to action framework for creating healthier built environments guide

A step-by-step guide that includes a self-assessment tool, a Health and the Built Environment Primer, and a list of relevant references and resources. Audience: Planners, design professionals and people involved in local government decision-making; Released: March, 2010

Workshop materials

Bringing health to the planning table: a profile of promising practices in Canada and abroad (PHAC)

Public Health Agency of Canada report profiles 13 Canadian communities where collaborative approaches to improve health have been a key consideration in planning decisions. Prepared for the Healthy Living Issue Group of the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network. Released: May, 2009

Foundations for a healthier built environment

Introductory report that explains the link between health and the built environment and calls for improved collaboration between the health and planning sectors. Audience: People relatively new to HBE issues or who want to improve intersectoral collaboration; Released: January, 2009

Indicators for a healthy built environment in BC

List of indicators that provide objective ways to measure and track changes in community status and population health. Released: July, 2008

Introduction to land-use planning for health professionals (Planning 101)

Workshop training module introducing health professionals to planning terms and processes. Audience: Public health professionals; Released: June, 2008

From strategy to action: Case studies on physical activity and the built environment

Report highlighting built environment initiatives to increase physical activity and promote health through community planning and design. Released: October, 2007

Creating a healthier built environment in BC

Report on best practices related to the built environment that address obesity-promoting factors Released: September, 2007

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