Track 4: Diversity, Population Change, and Gentrification in the Preservation Dialogue
If we accept that connections to the past are important for human existence, what are the connections between individuals’ knowledge of history, assertions of heritage, conservation efforts, and measures of public health? Specifically, how does intangible cultural heritage relate to public health?
Public health research linked to the designed environment investigates issues like physical activity levels, injury prevention, air quality, public policies, societal issues, and environmental justice and social equity (Dannenberg, 2003; Frumkin, 2005). Public health advocates for altered policies, behaviors, and designs for healthier human environments (Ramirez, et al., 2006; Saarloos, Kim, & Timmermans, 2009).
How might public health and heritage be related? Heritage is a basic human right (Bennoune, 2016; Blake, 2011; Hodder, 2010). Health is similarly recognized. There is currently limited research or work exploring how heritage and historic environments are beneficial for humanity’s health and well-being. Some work has been done on mental health and our sense of the past. Grenville (2007) rigorously argues the psychological well-being of individuals requires an awareness of how the individual fits into a past. More recent research highlights the positive neurophysiological response place and heritage promote (National Trust, 2017). In these examples, history and heritage become considerations of cause, effect, importance, and relevance through individual viewpoints. History is “understood as a mental structure…that underlies” our socialization of values in the past, present, and future (Kölbl & Konrad, 2015). These values are often articulated in our physical environments in ways that shape our individual and collective actions.
Physical aspects of health are also represented in the historic built environment. Issues as diverse as foodways, development patterns, indoor air quality, and biome-daylight relationships in buildings can relate historic building forms and landscapes to present-day human health.
The presentation reports an environmental literature review focusing on heritage and public health. Preservation and heritage scholarship directly connecting to public health is oblique and inconclusive. Few articles describe history in ways that affect public health outcomes and none make that connection clear. In contrast, the public health literature recognizes biological heritage and some aspects of cultural heritage (such as cultural practices and socialization) as significant factors affecting health. Understanding the potential interdisciplinary connections should lead to new research and a healthier, heritage-rich society.