Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States can be placed on two ends of a spectrum: individual and state-focused approaches. In the individual-focused approach, citizens are responsible for taking measures within their control to contain the virus. In the state-focused approach, states implement lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures to reduce contagion spread.
Both approaches have failings that have resulted in significant disruptions to our lives and our economy. “Stay home, stay safe” policies have had severe negative impacts on neighborhoods with limited access to financial resources. Not only do disadvantaged neighborhoods have worse baseline health, but also their economic conditions also make it difficult to practice preventative measures including social distancing.
The pandemic has revealed how fragile our communities are in the face of a crisis. This fragility was created by inflexible infrastructure, widespread inequity, and extreme dependence on external resources. The pandemic has also revealed a paradox: while individual health is a deeply personal issue, our collective health is irrevocably intertwined. We must design communities that consider environmental, social and economic needs holistically, with built-in agility to respond to a public health crisis.
When designing healthy communities, we have to ask:
How can we keep communities sustainable, accessible and vibrant in the face of future pandemics?
Is it possible for communities to survive contagion without going through a lockdown that impedes economic resilience?
Can we create a BLOC, defined as a specific area or group of residents, business owners and even public buildings that share a common purpose, that prioritizes community health and well-being?
The Community-BLOC Concept: A Resilient Community
The Community-BLOC is a conceptual framework for an equitable, accessible, and inclusive design positioned to withstand pandemics. It can switch between two modes: one designed for times of health, and one designed to weather a health crisis. Applying evidence from urban studies and infection prevention, we conclude that a design able to swiftly transform between these two ways of life will cultivate human, environmental and fiscal health. Agility and speed are key, which is why embedding change into the design drives the overall concept.
Six Design Principles of Community-BLOC:
1 – Net Positive Design Prioritizes Environmental and Social Health. Community-BLOC is an integral part of the city fabric and can operate as a self-sustaining entity when needed. The design features healthy buildings with ample ventilation and daylight, urban park networks, local food production, ½ mile access to parks, groceries, primary health and amenities that establish a foundation of health and wellness. During a pandemic, this makes the community self-reliant, able to support local businesses while protecting the physical and mental needs of the community.
2 –Every Footprint Has a Corresponding Cloudprint. The BLOC has a footprint that integrates distinctive activity zones into the city’s physical fabric, and a cloudprint that supports a healthy lifestyle by incorporating data and information into daily activities. An integrated digital infrastructure ensures business and life continuity during a crisis. The design includes geo-aware apps that promote healthy behaviors and connect individuals to health resources in the community and high-speed public internet access to support activities, including e-learning, telehealth and remote work. During a pandemic, this allows community sanctioned contact tracing to contain the virus, as well as digital access to essential services, health, education and work.
3 – Circuits and Circuit-Breakers Enable Containment and Continuity. A connected system for transport, food delivery, technology transfer and social health includes clearly defined circuit-breakers that can quickly isolate a spread and protect those vulnerable to an environmental or health threat. Scaled levels of mobility, the ability to manage access and flow, and thresholds allow rapid physical separation while maintaining social connection during a pandemic.
4 – Flexible and Mobile Infrastructure Creates Agility. The BLOC responds to ever-shifting social and economic demands while maintaining connections. During a pandemic, this allows rapid re-purposing of spaces and social distancing without social isolation or business interruption. Flexible design and mobile pods can be deployed to offer essential services such as health, food and education when access to the wider community is limited.
5 – A Mixed-Use, Inter-Generational and Inclusive Environment. A strong community is one where all people, regardless of age, gender, race or socio-economic status, play a role. In such a community, everyone has something to offer and something to receive from each other. This interdependence is possible by leveraging the unique strengths of different social groups. Mixed-use programming, multi-family living, inter-generational zoning, co-locating schools and senior living facilities are included in the BLOC allowing a seamless share of resources during a pandemic.
6 – Health and Education Form the Cornerstones. Education is the foundation of a healthy community. Schools educate students about health, which is then implemented in nearby homes, neighborhoods and community resources. Students help maintain community resources such as urban farms and local food sourcing. Additionally, schools function as 24/7 learning centers that serve school-aged children during the day and adult and community education in the evenings. During a pandemic, health and education facilities support each other, and by leveraging the other principles, access to health and education remains uninterrupted
Contagions may become as much a part of our life as climate change is. As we strive to live healthy lives within a healthy economy, it is essential to design environments that are net positive, agile and fundamentally resilient.
The report outlines these principles with twelve design and six activation strategies that can be deployed in any city block or neighborhood today while creating the basis for how we design for healthy communities going forward. Download the full report below.
Design Team: Nikola Gjurchinoski, Courtney Krause, Dora Figueroa Ahuyon
Communications & Business Development: Kim Montague, Jennie Evans
Clinical Advisor: Jennie Evans
Reviewers: Nick Cooper, Leo Gonzalez, Erin Peavey, Sheba Ross
Executive Sponsor: Jeff Stouffer