Recent updates: Wellbeing insights in Cleveland Lessons in centering community Viewpoint: Planning for wellbeing

Infrastructure investments aren’t neutral

The built environment – the highways, buildings, internet lines, waterways and other infrastructure around us – shapes our sense of who we are, what we are connected to and our sense of belonging. Yet historically, the built environment has too often fostered exclusion and isolation, with new infrastructure inflicting deep, multi-generational impacts on the wellbeing of communities.

For example, in the rush to build highways and housing after WWII, over one million people were displaced – often communities of color or working class white neighborhoods. Vibrant communities were destroyed and these harms impacted generations of economic vitality, social cohesion and sense of place.

We can’t predict the future – but we can design for it

The fact that harmful planning leaves such a lasting legacy reminds us of the importance of taking the long view as we make new investments and plans. How we build will generate healing or harm that lasts decades.

By shifting from shovel-ready to shovel-worthy infrastructure projects that prioritize equitable access to wellbeing, the planning community can address and repair harms of the past while moving us toward an environmentally and socially just future.

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Planning for wellbeing

Featured Resources

The Infrastructure of Wellbeing

With a nearly one trillion dollar federal investment in infrastructure being made, the United States urgently needs new methodologies that center equitable access to wellbeing — and help counter our history of inflicting harms.

In a Viewpoint essay for Planning magazine, FFI’s CEO Katya Fels Smyth and Brookings Senior Fellow Xavier de Souza Briggs make the case: we must reckon with how past investments have been used to institutionalize inequities, and create a built environment that provides universal access to wellbeing.


How to Create Shovel-Worthy Infrastructure

In the second part of the series published by the American Planning Association, Brookings Senior Fellow Xavier de Souza Briggs and Full Frame Initiative CEO Katya Fels Smyth outline a framework to guide new capital investments.

Grounded in principles from the Wellbeing Blueprint, this six-point framework shows how to plan and design a built environment that provides universal access to wellbeing.


Make change in the built environment

We have an opportunity to make sure equitable wellbeing is at the center of new infrastructure investments. Here are three places to start:

Start with the why: wellbeing.

Infrastructure projects won’t create equitable access to wellbeing unless we attend to it from the outset.
Ask the following questions to avoid the tendency of outside experts deciding what should matter to people: How is wellbeing defined and experienced by communities? How would a proposed project expand access to wellbeing? For whom, and how exactly?

Design and build with, not for.

At each phase of planning and implementation, join stakeholders in creative dialogue about how infrastructure can enhance the lives they lead, as well as the lives they want to lead. Our Wellbeing Insights, Assets & Tradeoffs Tool can help to ensure that planning reflects a community’s full diversity.

Seek out inspiration.

We don’t need to start from scratch. We can learn from existing built environment examples such as Detroit’s Fitzgerald neighborhood, the reimagining of Marygrove College’s campus and Washington DC’s first elevated public park.