Our health is largely determined by environmental factors. More than two-thirds of non-communicable diseases depend on it, be it cardiovascular or metabolic diseases, cancers or even chronic respiratory problems. Housing plays an important role here.
Housing, and more generally the building, should also integrate residents’ health as a priority
Housing and public health, same battle!
Housing, workplaces and leisure activities, nearby public spaces, contribute greatly to all the exposures to which our organisms, our bodies, are exposed. The term exposome covers this field of medical research, which appeared about fifteen years ago to understand the effects of all the environmental factors that accumulate in us during our lives: what we breathe, what we ingest, the radiations, the noise, the landscape , the multiple influences we are exposed to have effects, good or bad, on our physical and mental healthcombine them together to produce cocktails that still leave science powerless.
Habitat is at the heart of the matter, whether in terms of locations, the design and organization of buildings, the lifestyles it invites, the materials used, the methods and practices of maintenance and maintenance. Housing and public healthsame fight!
Housing, a public health tool?
Several organizations and many works are devoted to housing and institutions adapted to different pathologies, such as “therapeutic coordination apartments”. The law sets requirements for accessibility for the disabled, recently focusing on the effects of an aging population. It is then a matter of facing problems, in a predominantly defensive position, in order to reduce or avoid the health problems (in the sense of the WHO) of vulnerable populations.
Why not go further and design a habitat that, in addition to its primary function of shelter and living space, becomes a public health resource? The hygiene movement of the last century offered a first answer, but it was essentially: fight against infectious diseases† It is a first step, always mainly defensively. How “offensive” is to promote good health and not just prevent disease? How to enrich the hygienic component of technical inspiration with a sensitive, affective dimension, so that broad support can be obtained from the residents?
On a mental level, the fight against loneliness requires a layout favorable to meetings, convenience stores, public spaces, banks, etc. The quality of the urban landscape, the tranquility or the animation as the case may be, the treatment of footpaths, illustrate the leeway on the outside layout side. This can encourage active mobility. Cycling saves money on Social Security. The rehabilitation of the stairwell in the offices, where the spontaneous tendency would be to the elevator even for one floor earlier, is an example of a simple measure in the tertiary sector. It is an ergonomics of the external and internal paths that prompts us to “move”, as the official advertisements encourage us to do.
Urban climate planning, air quality, summer comfort and other avenues
“Climate” urban planning is another way to promote health. Streets oriented according to the prevailing winds, both to evacuate and disperse pollution and to provide pleasant microclimates. A plan that gives maximum access to the sun, provides for the presence of water, fountain, riverbank, pond, etc. of birds (but beware of allergies and so as not to slow down the spread of pollutants).
In buildings, the regulations provide indications for the health aspect. It is of course desirable to do more, especially for air exchange, ventilation, essential for good health, but also to avoid air conditioning, which is not good for human health or for the planet. Energy poverty is a social and health problem. It is expensive in terms of health, but also absenteeism, education, family and social situations. A cost estimated in the United Kingdom to be higher than that of the rehabilitation works. It is also on the use and behavior side that the effort must be made, on the way of life, essentially linked to customs and cultures. A healthy living environment in line with the lifestyle of the residents, and an awareness of the latter, of hard and soft.
And always double the dividend to be win-win
The search for co-benefits is essential for sustainable development. The double dividend.
Housing, and more generally housing, can also integrate health. A transverse approach, beyond the bulkheads that had to be placed to facilitate the action, but which did not have to be watertight. Our daily environment, largely in buildings, determines our health and our lifestyle, which are themselves directly related to our health. The separation of powers has meant that the housing policy meets the minimum requirements, does no harm.
Recognition of an ambitious “health target”, integrated into housing and urban planning policies, would be a major step towards: sustainable development†
About the author
Dominique Bidou, an engineer and demographer by training, was director of the Ministry of the Environment and honorary president of the association HQE (now Alliance HQE – GBC). He is a consultant in Sustainable Development, has written numerous books such as “Sustainable development, a matter of entrepreneurs”, animates his blog…
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