Healthy Buildings - Vibrant Communities

Healthy Buildings - Vibrant Communities

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

At Cornerstone, we are passionate about regeneration. 

As we continue to plan projects that focus on the derelict corners of Belfast, we explore the 'why' and 'how' of regeneration, the need for it, and how it works in reality on our streets, in business, in this industry and ultimately in the lives of those who live in our city.

In our research into the effects of regeneration, we have come across some great examples of how bringing buildings back to life, taking wasteland and redeveloping it, not only has aesthetic appeal in an area but has a significant impact of the health and vitality of the community as a whole. This research reveals that health and well-being are directly impacted by living conditions and the general condition of your neighbourhood.

What is interesting, when you look up the meaning of 'regeneration' you will find that two concepts come up:

Urban regeneration is the attempt to reverse that decline by both improving the physical structure, and, more importantly, and elusively, the economy of those areas. 

Biology regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage.

One article of research carried out in America by Erwin de Leon and Joseph Schilling of the Urban Institute reports; 

Vacant and abandoned properties are one of the primary indicators of neighbourhood-level distress. Researchers have long studied the negative impacts of abandoned buildings and vacant lots on public health and safety. The rubric of the “broken window theory” suggests that vacant properties and neighbourhoods with persistent blight create a climate of social and psychological disorder that attracts criminal activity and violence and becomes a breeding ground for vermin (Branas et al. 2011). These factors have been shown to have deleterious effects on area residents, including mental distress (e.g.,depression, elevated rates of intentional injury); higher rates of chronic illness (e.g.,cardiovascular disease); sexually transmitted diseases (e.g., HIV, gonorrhea); stunted brain and physical development in children; and mass retreat of area residents into unhealthy eating and exercise habits.

Allison Aiello, an epidemiologist and university professor, also confirms in her research project 'Detroit Neighborhood Health Study', how abandoned buildings and vacant spaces can harm your health. She says people can experience "loss of community control over a neighbourhood, fear of crime and financial strain." 

In this study, they wanted to know how neighbourhoods with high rates of abandonment affect your health. They took blood samples of over 300 people throughout 54 different neighbourhoods over a number of years to test for a number of different biomarkers. One of these focused on the thymus. It's the organ responsible for creating new T cells in the body, which help fight off infection. Aiello calls it "a good barometer of the integrity of your immune system."

What she found was that "for every 10 per cent increase in the prevalence of abandoned homes, there was a decrease in thymic function that was basically equal to having a thymus that was one year older than an individual with 10 per cent fewer abandoned homes in their neighbourhood."

It is these findings, backed up by extensive global research, that show how urban regeneration and biology regeneration co-exist and interact with each other. This highlights the importance of regeneration in Belfast and how we have a responsibility to work together and engage with the community, government and businesses in the regenerating of the city.

As we continue to work towards the urban regeneration of Belfast, we seek to design and create healthy buildings. Buildings that will impact the lives of those who dwell in them in a healthy way whilst also having a positive effect on the wider community.

By building healthy buildings and focusing on how we establish a vibrant community we believe we can see both urban and biological regeneration at work.

Keep a look out for more articles to come as we unpack this issue further.

Daniel Jackson

Daniel Jackson


The team is led by Daniel Jackson, an experienced property and construction professional who has worked on a wide range of projects, both across the UK and internationally, on a variety of commercial and high-end residential developments.  

Cornerstone is a purpose-driven business that seeks opportunities to transform cities by developing property and building thriving communities.

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