October 21, 2015
Sheba Ross, AICP, LEED AP, Int’l AIA, CDT

As one of the most beloved (and intriguing) words in the English Language, you might find it strange to see it being used outside the context of romance or science. But I cannot seem to find another word to describe the unravelling of events of a project we were engaged in last year.

In 2014, HKS was the healthcare consultant on the Medline Livable Centers Initiative, which proposes turning the area around the DeKalb Medical Center in Decatur, Georgia, into a health and wellness district. The project, awarded by the Atlanta Regional Commission, was led by Sizemore Group, which tapped into HKS’ expertise in healthcare solutions to envision concepts that resonated with the medical component of the master plan. The study area spans 520 acres of multi-cultural and multi-use properties. HKS sought to efficiently connect the health profile of the community with the conditions of the built environment. Our team dove into a deep study to unearth strategies that will lead to design principles that will, in turn, powerfully transform the neighborhood.

Consistently, one organization’s resources addressed almost all the dimensions of our study. We discovered that the CDC had multiple guides, publications, check lists and tool kits that posed as veritable informants for our process. We carefully crafted a Medical Mile and a Wellness Belt that were derived from comprehensive site analyses, health status indicators, surveys, public charrettes, precedent success stories and community goals. We played our role with diligence. If you had walked by our desks last year, you would have seen it was buried under a mountain of data and information.

And someone actually did.

Charles Green, a friend of my colleague, was visiting our office and was passing by our desks, when he caught a glimpse of the material dispersed all over them. While the others saw a mountain, he saw his handiwork! He had lead the team that authored several of the CDC resources we were using! He was thrilled to see the Healthy Community Design Initiative influencing a master plan as per its intention. Needless to say, this incident sparked a dialog about the impact of design on health. Within weeks, HKS was invited to make a presentation to CDC’s Built Environment Work Group about how urban planners leverage data and research to inform our solutions. Our work for the Medline LCI was featured in the CDC blogs and a synergy evolved that transcended the traditional design disciplines. Our conversations revolved around making public health the nexus of master plan components. We approached CDC to even partner with us in a potential research fellowship that would explore how urban morphology could be a result of a deliberate intervention by designers who use health to dictate policies and physical form. And, as if this was not enough, last month, the DeKalb County Medline LCI was given the Outstanding Health Planning Award by the Georgia Chapter of the American Planning Association.

How did this come to be?

When HKS got engaged in this project, we did not seek these particular results. We were simply working with the solid belief that the credibility of the resources strongly influences the integrity of the design solution. We vetted several strategies and were very thorough with the analyses. But the results have been beyond our imagination or intention. What we really wanted was to give reliable resources to the community and then encouraged its people to believe that they were part of the solution.

And beautiful things happened.

So, can we call this serendipitous? It might not be as monumental as a falling apple leading Newton to discern gravity or Fleming accidentally discovering Penicillin. Maybe these events were subtly prescribed by hard work. But all I can say is that I did not set out to write this particular story for the blog post. Strangely, this is where my keystrokes took me. And only time will tell me if that, maybe, was serendipity.

Leveraging Resources - HKS

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Posted in Health