Meet Professor Avi Friedman, expert on designing healthy communities & ECE 2019 plenary speaker


Meet Professor Avi Friedman, co-founder of the Affordable Homes Program at the McGill School of Architecture, author of 23 books and a columnist for several media outlets. His research focuses on factors that influence the design and implementation of affordable and sustainable building practices, including the design of cities and homes to help fight metabolic disease. He will be delivering his plenary lecture at ECE 2019, 18 - 21 May in Lyon.

Tell us about your career and what led you to endocrinology?

I received my bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Town Planning from the Israel Institute of Technology, and master’s degree from McGill University in Canada. I next went on to complete a doctorate at the University of Montréal. In 1988, I co-founded the Affordable Homes Program at the McGill School of Architecture where I currently teach. I also hold an Honorary Professor position in Lancaster University in the U.K.

My career passion is in housing innovation to improve the way in which we live. One of my research and practice areas is designing communities where people are given more opportunities to be active, to help reduce metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

What are you presenting at ECE 2019?

Obesity is an epidemic that has affected many nations. Despite public health messages about adopting a healthy active lifestyle being entrenched in the campaign against obesity, I believe that poor city planning makes this a challenging proposition. Often there is a tendency to blame people’s dietary choices and sedentary habits, but it can also be argued that poor urban planning practices have largely contributed to a lack of active lifestyles.

In my plenary, I will illustrate the decline of community planning for healthy living and outline measures that can be reintroduced to foster active lifestyles. For example, low-density suburban sprawl, long commutes, diminishing land for green areas and the elimination of sidewalks from local streets are some aspects that have led to reduced physical activity among residents of all ages. I believe that designing the community and the home as exercise machines needs to be a top priority of urban planners and public health officials.

What has been your most surprising finding?

What’s amazing is when opportunities for active living in community design are given. When commercial hubs are within walking distance and there are mandatory jogging tracks, bike paths and play spaces, people are more engaged in physical activity and, in general, the level of well-being increases.

What are you looking forward to at ECE 2019 and what would you recommend to other delegates?

I am really looking forward to finding out about new and innovative ideas to combat obesity, and new ways of caring for diabetes patients. I also would like to know more about designing healthy communities.

What has been your proudest professional experience so far?

As a professor of architecture, I am proud of my 30 years of teaching at McGill University in Montreal, where I was able to educate generations of architects about designing healthy and sustainable communities. As an architect, I am also very proud of the places that I designed and the international recognitions that they received. I was particularly honoured to receive the World Habitat Award in 1999, for recognition of the contribution that my work has made to society at large.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your research area right now?

I find the biggest challenge is making municipalities and developers change their old ways and allow the building of healthy communities. For example, at present, in some places, the building of high-density neighborhoods is not permitted or wanted.
Making health a top priority in community planning and building design for the benefit of the residents is something I hope will become common place in my field.

Who do you admire most and why?

I admire Scandinavian urban planners and municipalities, who made planning for active living and walkability a top priority in their work. I can say with confidence that it will result in a nation with fewer cases of obesity.

You can hear Professor Avi Friedman’s Plenary Lecture, “Designing Cities and Homes as Exercise Machines: Helping endocrinologists to fight metabolic disease” on Saturday 18 May, at 19:00. Find out more about the ECE 2019 scientific programme.