Liveable cities mean healthier, happier residents. But policymakers must keep pace with development to make sure good urban planning leads to better overall health and wellbeing, writes Billie Giles-Corti.
The co-benefits of urban liveability for the economy, social inclusion, environmental and social sustainability, and public health are now well recognised by all levels of government in Australia and internationally.
But what does “liveability” really mean? While it may make headlines, this apparently simple question has no easy answer.
For more than 20 years, I and a multi-disciplinary team of researchers have been studying the impact of the built environment on health and wellbeing.
Our research shows that comprehensive city planning is beneficial to community health. The elements many of us look for in our neighbourhood are proving time and again to be good for our wellbeing.
Take walking for example. Whether or not an area is walkable, with access to shops, service and public transport, with trees and parks nearby affects residents in many ways. This includes whether they walk locally, how safe they feel when walking the streets, how mentally well they feel in general and whether they have connections with neighbours.
Our longitudinal study – the Residential Environments Projects (RESIDE) – evaluated the Western Australian government’s Liveable Neighbourhoods (LN) guidelines. This policy aimed to create more pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods while RESIDE examined the impact of urban design on health factors such as walking, cycling, public transport use and sense of community.
We found that implementing and enforcing the planning rules directly affected the community’s overall health. Importantly, the better compliance with the policy, the better outcomes for the community.
Then University of Western Australia PhD student, Paula Hooper, found that for every 10 per cent increase in overall Liveable Neighbourhoods policy compliance, participants were 53 per cent more likely to walk within their neighbourhood. They were also 40 per cent less likely to feel unsafe from crime and 11 per cent more likely to have better mental health.
This was originally published by Australia and the Pacific Policy Society.