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Planners critical to healthy cities - report

Words: Laura Edgar

Planning has a critical role to play in tackling health problems that could cost the world close to £30 trillion over the next 20 years.

That's the conclusion of a new RTPI report arguing that planning is critical to healthy urban futures. Launched at the RTPI Scotland Annual Conference on 7 October, Promoting Healthy Cities cites 2011 World Economic Forum figures claiming that worldwide health challenges, including non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and mental health, could cost an estimated £28 trillion over the next 20 years.

With more than half the world's population - and rising - living in urban areas, and with many health problems linked to the environments in which people live and work, planners have a significant role to play in creating cities that promote good health and wellbeing, the report argues. Planners need also to respond to the challenges thrown up by ageing populations and regional variations in life expectancy.

According to the report, the number of over-65s globally will more than double to around two billion by 2050, meaning that non-communicable diseases are likely to rise and the demand for easily accessible care will increase. And in England alone, the RTPI's deputy head of policy and research, Mike Harris, told the Scottish conference, life expectancy varies by up to seven years between different areas.

Promoting Healthy Cities calls for UK nations:

-       To develop more integrated strategies for healthy placemaking. Health providers and urban planners need to work together to address the location of health services and improve accessibility.

-       To gather greater intelligence on the social and economic determinants of health in order to guide planners’ decisions and investments in their areas.

-       To reform and strengthen institutions to ensure integration of health policies.

-       To acknowledge that poor health can arise from communities’ lack of power and control over their environment, and involve communities in health decision-making.

RTPI president Cath Ranson said: “This report makes the link showing how the built environment, infrastructure and where we live, work and spend leisure time, can have an enormous effect on our health and wellbeing.

"As our ways of living are becoming more complex, we need to develop more integrated strategies for healthy placemaking. That may involve providing space for walkers and cyclists, provision of play spaces and green spaces, access to healthy food, or enabling cooler environments for people where temperatures may rise. Health and wellbeing need to be at the core of how we design and develop cities.”

Read the RTPI's Planning Horizons series:

Promoting Healthy Cities

Thinking Spatially

Future Proofing Society