Healthy Active by Design (HABD), an online tool and criterion for health conscious design, responds to Australia’s documented obesity problem through construction ingenuities.

Developed by the Heart Foundation in Western Australia, in collaboration with government agencies and construction industry representatives Hassell and Aurecon, HABD was established to assist urban designers and planners in creating safe, accessible movement networks and healthy public places for the community.

The Heart Foundation says the initiative draws inspiration from the a 2010 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, 'Global status report on non-communicable diseases', which identified the need for decision makers to undertake interventions to address the prevalence of chronic diseases in our communities.

One of those interventions listed was designing the built environment to promote physical activity.

The HABD tool was developed with the Western Australian Government, and is an index of their attempt to address the WHO recommendations.

The tool is delivered online and offers practical guidance and checklists for town planners, urban designers and architects centering on nine design features:

Public open space
Goal: Provide a well distributed network of public open spaces within the neighbourhood that provide for a variety of recreational, sporting and social needs of the community.


Goal: Develop buildings and site designs that specifically support increased levels of physical activity through design that promotes incidental physical activity, such as stair use, provision of end trip facilities, convenient access to public transport options, and natural surveillance of the streetscape.

Town centres/main streets
Goal: Provide for the needs of a community through the provision of walkable neighbourhoods and town centres that act as community focal points or hubs. These should be surrounded by a network of connected streets, paths and cycle ways, integrated with public transport and within close proximity of a variety of residential dwelling types.

Goal: Provide schools within walkable proximity and ensure that routes to school facilitate children’s active transport to school through footpaths, cycling infrastructure and public transport. Provide a range of community sport and recreational facilities for after school hours access.

Movement networks
Goal: Provide movement networks that integrate walking, cycling and public transport routes for safe and convenient travel, and maximise opportunities to engage in physical activity.


Mixed use
Goal: Create compact mixed-use neighbourhoods with a diverse mix of employment, education, retail, fresh and healthy food outlets and recreation land uses.


Housing diversity
Goal: Provide a range of residential lot sizes and choice of housing products and tenures to facilitate housing diversity. Increased residencies in close proximity to support mixed-use centres, local employment, community facilities and public transport.

Sense of place
Goal: To provide walkable environments that enhance sense of community and social capital by encouraging and facilitating social ties or community connections through opportunities for residents to meet, interact and engage in their neighbourhood.


Shared Facilities
Goal: Develop integrated community and recreation facilities to enhance opportunities for sports participation, physical activities and enhancement of wellbeing and community interactions.


These features were shortlisted by the Heart Foundation, who suggests that if applied faithfully, a positive influence on public health can be achieved. Robina Crook from Hassell collaborated on the project and believes the tool will encourage decision makers in all forms to think about incorporating the right urban forms.

“By encouraging walking, cycling, public transport use and even simple things such as taking the stairs or walking through an attractive park to get to the shops instead of driving, the right urban forms can contribute to creating a healthier, more active population," she says.

"On a really basic level, a town planning student can use the references to guide them through their research papers. A community member who is interested in supporting increased walking in their community can also dip into the tool.

"At a more professional level there's a 23-page checklist for town planners. And during the beginning phases of their projects designers and planners can use this tool to help their clients understand the merits of an integrated movement network, and how it links to community amenities and destinations.

"People can then gather support for new developments under the premise of wellness and health. And, in fact, we've actually started already doing that with our clients," Crook says.

The HABD project will be implemented as part of an ongoing program from the Heart Foundation to create environments that support healthy and active living.

The Foundation says the tool will be supported through an implementation strategy, which will include regular communication, information sharing opportunities, networks, and partnership building and interactive training opportunities.

Visit for more information and to trial the tool.