Cities for Healthier Lives

We are sitting in worsening traffic jams, breathing in car fumes, living in isolated suburbs with no shops or services to walk or cycle to, and spending hours travelling to work because jobs are concentrated in unaffordable inner city areas.

The way we are planning our cities is causing a host of preventable health problems, from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases to diabetes and stress.

But we now have a blueprint for change. An international team of researchers, led by the University of Melbourne, have quantified for the first time the massive potential health benefits to be had if we finally just started planning our cities around the needs of humans and not cars. The researchers say it is a call for politicians to take action and set targets.

Published as three papers in The Lancet medical journal, the research was launched by the United Nations in New York on September 23, 2016, where the authors addressed a meeting of the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Planning cities around cars is damaging our health and is unsustainable. Picture Pexels.

Central to the research is the promotion of “compact cities” in which people live in higher density neighbourhoods closer to local shops, public transport, services and jobs, and complemented by increased infrastructure for walking and cycling instead of relying on cars.

If the compact city blueprint was implemented they calculate that a car-dependent city such as Melbourne would cut the burden of cardiovascular disease by 19 per cent and cut the burden of type-2 diabetes by 14 per cent. Overall the equivalent of 679 years of extra healthy life would be gained in Melbourne per 100,000 people.

The gain for Boston in the US would be 826 healthy years, in Delhi the gain is 620 healthy years, and in Sao Paulo 420 healthy years. There is no set size for a compact city – what matters is the planning and design of safe walkable local neighbourhoods.

“For the first time this research quantifies the relationship between land use, urban design, population density and transport systems, and the impact they have on our health,” says lead author Professor Mark Stevenson, epidemiologist and Professor of Urban Transport and Public Health at the University of Melbourne. “It shows that by adopting a compact cities model that places an emphasis on active transport, we can achieve a huge reduction in the burden of chronic disease.”

The compact city model is based on increasing land use density, and the mix of uses on that land, by 30 per cent, while decreasing the average distance of housing to public transport by 30 per cent and increasing the use of non-motorised transport by 10 per cent. For example, jobs and services should be accessible within 30 minutes of home by public transport. Homes should have bus and train stops nearby, within no more than 400 metres and 800 metres respectively.

Originally Published by Andrew Trounson, University of Melbourne, read the full article here.