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Glass-House Chats: Wellbeing and Placemaking

Posted on 4 June 2024

Written by:

Louise Dennison

This month’s Chat, focused on Wellbeing and Placemaking and explored the impact that designing for wellbeing can have on citizens and asked how wellbeing can be a more integral part of placemaking. Our participants joined us from across the UK and brought with them a range of different expertise, which led to an interesting discussion.

Key Themes

Wellbeing and Placemaking offered a rich seam of conversation and we started the Chat with some introductions and then personal reflections from participants on where they live and their own definitions of wellbeing. There were three key themes of the conversation, the first being the notion of belonging to a place and how we build a sense of community. We then discussed the barriers to wellbeing within placemaking and why people live where they live. We ended on thoughts and reflections on the importance of play and access to nature to both wellbeing and placemaking.  

Sense of Belonging/Community

Conversation started with a question, What in placemaking contributes to people’s wellbeing? Our group spoke about the importance of finding a sense of belonging and community and this led to reflections on why people live where they live and how each of the participants interacted with their local places and communities where they call home. 

One participant talked about how you can create an age-friendly ecosystem and also gave a personal reflection on living in a cul-de-sac, a design intervention that incidentally provides a safe space for young families, as having no through roads enables play. The group also touched briefly on the idea of a 20 minute neighbourhood and how easy access to social infrastructure like schools, doctors surgeries and shops would contribute to wellbeing

Creating a sense of belonging is not limited to finding a connection with people but also to the surrounding green spaces and critters. Going for walks, bird-watching, gardening and journaling about nature, were examples given by the group of how feeling a sense of belonging to your environment should be considered more within placemaking.

Our group also spoke about the concept of rootedness. Those in the group who commuted or worked outside of their local area reflected on their community being much wider geographically and not feeling as rooted to their local community.

One participant reflected on the role of belonging and wellbeing within the design process and how being comfortable and happy might contribute to more effective and genuine co-design of new spaces and places.

Barriers to Wellbeing

Conversation swiftly turned to what might prevent  people from feeling healthy, happy and comfortable within a place and what stopped us from feeling part of a community. Time restraints linked to work, or busy family lives were raised as a barrier for people taking a more active role in their local community and therefore not feeling a sense of belonging. However, as one participant raised, having a young family does offer the opportunity to get more involved in community life through local play groups and clubs. 

Not having access to nature and green spaces was suggested as another potential barrier to wellbeing and one participant offered a personal reflection about how a connection with nature is one of the most important considerations around where they choose to live. 

One person raised that if someone doesn’t have a sense of belonging or doesn’t feel part of a community, then that can affect their wellbeing, so the group spoke about ways to counteract this. Participants suggested that the use of online spaces can provide more accessibility to people, encouraging them and giving them more confidence to join in with activities and community groups. One participant expressed that it was important to provide lots of varied routes into conversations and groups, so that different people can get involved.

The Importance of Play and Access to Nature in Wellbeing 

These themes came up right at the end of the chat and are both really big topics, so we only scratched the surface with our closing conversation. 

The importance of play and the creation of spaces for play as a consideration within placemaking, for all ages not just children, was noted by our group as something which would contribute to people’s wellbeing and could enable them to develop a sense of belonging and ownership of their spaces. Play in nature was also cited as a really effective way of encouraging people to explore their locality and build a connection with the environment around them as well as with each other. 

The group felt we could use a whole chat to talk about nature-based placemaking specifically and suggested that we might look at this being a future Chat theme.

Wrapping up

This was a very engaging and enjoyable chat, with the conversation covering a number of key topics which affirmed that designing for wellbeing within placemaking is an essential consideration, ensuring people are healthy and happy and feel connected with their local community and environment.