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Uniting Healthcare and Community: The Healthy Mix

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This post is part of a series related to Uniting Healthcare + Community.

More than a century ago, a small group of men departed their native land and people in Southern Italy seeking betterment beyond the desperately poor lives they’d led for centuries. Seventeen years after beginning their journey toward the land of opportunity, they reunited with those they had left behind and established the first Italian borough in America—the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania. Family-owned shops, bakeries and restaurants began populating the streets—between which, closely clustered homes each maintained personal gardens, livestock and grapevines for winemaking.

A doctor local to Roseto’s region noticed a pattern within this self-sufficient world they created. He teamed with a medical professor and a sociologist to conduct tests on the Roseto population, and the results were shocking: virtually no one under 55 died of a heart attack and, for men over 65, the rate of heart attack fatalities in Roseto was half that of the nation overall. Their conclusions revealed no correlation with the Rosetans’ location, and since many were heavy smokers and others struggled with obesity, the absence of heart disease was not genetic or diet related. Further, they reported “no suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and little crime in their culture.”

Image © Gensler

Their findings could not be explained by complex health data, so what separated Rosetans’ from the epidemics surrounding the nation at that time? It was the community itself. In the introduction of his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes the mysterious town of Roseto as an example of an outlier, by which the fundamentals of a healthy mixed-use community are grounded. The Rosetans’ social and cultural structure was shaped by the place and proximities they created—and, as a result, they lived, worked and played very close to one another.

The mix of elements that develops our sensitivities to space (and place) is in a constant state of flux. As the mix changes, so do the relationships between them and—as we learned from the Rosetans—relationships are predicated on proximities, which are vital to health and happiness. As the complexities of the modern world continue to shape the ever-changing urban environment, the lessons of Roseto could inform the relationship between today’s healthcare industry and the community. How and where we live has changed. How and where we work has changed. How and where we spend money and entertain ourselves has changed. How we move about and link these components has changed. How and where we heal, however, has not revealed the same level of formal change to date—the hospital is still the hospital. Technology has certainly transformed healthcare operations, but it has generally remained physically disengaged from ‘the community.’ There’s good reason to believe that this is poised to change, and soon.

Image © Gensler

Through a wide assortment of lenses—ranging from individuals and the organizations that serve them, to consumers and the providers that deliver to them—industry shifts are inevitable as technology advances and new players enter the market. With that said, where will Health + Wellness fit in the overall model?

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We’re asking such questions to stimulate and challenge our spatial understanding of the future of health & wellness and its underlying relationship with the community. This is the first blog of our series, “Uniting Healthcare + Community,” which will explore more topics through a diversity of design lenses that range widely in scale. These blogs set the tone for upcoming events across the Southeast Region this year—hosted by Gensler Washington, D.C.’s Health and Wellness practice area. Stay tuned for our next post on the new mixed-use community, which translates questions of where into inquiries about how health & wellness fits in the mix.

Brian Cummings is a licensed architect with diverse experience leading an international array of successful projects amid a multitude of scales. Through this wide lens, he roots the belief that good design is simply good design—from a logo or a coffee cup, to an airport or an entire city. Despite how “good” is gauged, it’s indisputable that design predicated on human experience is a healthy start to realizing it. Contact him at Brian_Cummings@gensler.com.