Health as urban design:

I spoke at the Cusp Conference last week to a packed audience at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art about health, design, and time. Other speakers were Richard Saul Wurman who founded TED and Maggie Breslin who heads up the Mayo Clinic’s SPARC Design Group and that’s just to name two.

The argument I made is that how we spend our time is the number one killer in the developed world and modern medicine doesn’t have the tools to improve how we spend our time. From 1880 to 1960, our life expectancy increased 31 years. From 1960 to 2010 (the era of “modern medicine”), we’ve only added 7 years. It was simple public health measures like clean water, vaccines, and antibiotics that made such a drastic change prior to 1960. And now we’re stuck because pills and scalpels don’t fix unhealthy lifestyle.

So, if modern medicine isn’t going to fix our bad behavior, what will?

I’m calling this Public Health 2.0. Public Health 2.0 is taking an active role in designing our built environment, our food supply, our activities, and our social connections to ultimately influence for the better how we spend our time in this modern world. We should talk about good design more in terms of health.

Chicago has done their best to lead by example. The new Millennium Park is a phenomenal example of “healthy” urban design. It brings people together to give us ridiculously interesting things to see, hear, feel, and smell. It gives us a reason to be active and connect with our friends and family. This is Public Health 2.0.

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