Ian Blair, WSP Opus Managing Director, explains why a focus on wellbeing is important.
New Zealand, like any other country, is facing challenges that previous generations haven’t had to, including dealing with the impacts of climate change and managing unprecedented levels of growth.The combination of significant under-investment in infrastructure, fundamental technological transitions and the accelerating rate of change puts us in unchartered territory.
As such, the need has never been greater for decision-making that looks beyond electoral and budget cycles. Planning and investment frameworks should deliver not just for today, but for generations to come.
Focusing on wellbeing puts people and the environment at the heart of these decisions. This is something WSP Opus strongly supports.
When it comes to supporting mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders we think engineering can deliver better places, where our friends, families and neighbours thrive. Everyone should be able to feel at home where they live while being connected to their community and having access to the services and facilities that will enrich their lives.
As custodians of the built environment – the planners, engineers and designers – it challenges us to shift away from wanting to create iconic landmarks, to focus on creating extraordinary places.
Extraordinary places bring together buildings, transport, utilities, energy and, holistically, link this around a community. They enable happy, connected, safe and resilient communities.
Tackling isolation should be a key focus. Social isolation can trigger or exacerbate mental health disorders. Who is most susceptible to loneliness in cities? It’s the young, the disabled, the stay-at-home parents of young children, and the elderly. Loneliness affects our physical health: researchers have found that it can be as bad as a chronic illness, with lonely people 50% more likely to die prematurely than people who have a good social network.
The good news is that you can design to combat loneliness, and we need to work with our community stakeholders to co-design places that meet their needs – and the needs of generations to come.
Lack of mobility limits a person’s ability to obtain and keep jobs, access basic services, contribute to society or maintain a reasonable quality of life, and there are sections of our society that are impacted by this. Isolation weighs heavily on individuals and costs society, so when a city - or country - can provide everyone with the basic mobility required to access employment, services and each other, we all win, and more equitable societies are happier societies.
It’s not going to be easy, but we can do it if we change our mindset, thinking not only about the challenges and opportunities of today but also those of the future.