Healthy community design can benefit children in many important ways. At a time when obesity and diabetes are rising among children, when asthma continues to be highly prevalent, and when conditions such as attention deficit disorder may be on the rise, it is crucial to seek, understand, and implement environmental design solutions that might help with these health challenges.
School siting and design are examples of how the built environment can influence children’s health. When new schools are built a long distance from where families live, then children need to be driven to school, depriving them of an opportunity for physical activity, and contributing to air pollution and risk for automobile crashes. On the other hand, if schools are located within walking or biking distance of where people live, and if safe routes to school are provided, then children can make walking or biking a part of their daily lives, establishing healthy habits that can last a lifetime.
Much is now known about designing and building (or renovating) schools in ways that promote children’s health and school performance. Healthy schools provide plenty of light and fresh air, and use building materials that do not pose hazards to children.
Parks and green spaces are another example of the built environment that contributes to the health of children. Research increasingly suggests that children benefit from the opportunity to play outdoors, where they can explore and enjoy natural environments. Planning parks near residential areas — and making sure that the parks include attractive landscaping, well-designed amenities such as playgrounds and sports facilities, and safe routes leading to and from them – is an invaluable strategy of community design that is healthy and nurturing for children.