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Rethinking urban design could help city-dwellers’ health

Words: Laura Edgar

Redesigning city streets and other transport infrastructure could improve the physical and mental health of people living in cities, according to a new report.

The Health + Mobility: A Design Protocol For Mobilising Healthy Living report aims to provide civic leaders, city planners and architects with a guidance protocol that can be applied in any urban setting.

It sets out how to help cities indentify the health issues that can be influenced by taking a “more holistic approach to transport design”.

The research team – Arup, a planning and engineering company; BRE, a research-based consultancy; University College London (UCL) and AREA Research, a non-profit organisation – suggest that “something as simple as “the design of streets, pathways and networks could have a “significant impact” on encouraging people to walk, cycle and take part in other physical activities.

Report statistics include:

• Air pollution is contributing to approximately 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health.

• In the UK 62 per cent of adults are classed as overweight or obese, and nearly four million suffer from diabetes. The cost of treating diabetes-related conditions is around £10 billion.

9 per cent of premature deaths worldwide can be attributed to inadequate physical activity, according to a study published in The Lancet in 2012.

• The transport sector is a major contributor to climate change, being responsible for 23 per cent of global carbon emissions, according to information provided to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The protocol was tested in the Liverpool Knowledge Quarter, UK, and the Baton Rouge Health District in the US.

Its application in Liverpool highlighted a range of measures that could be implemented to improve underlying health issues in the area, says the researchers, including reducing the amount of wide and busy roads.

The study also suggests road layout changes and creating more “attractive” pedestrian and cycling networks.

The changes, it continues, could facilitate better street life, improve air quality and encourage people to be more physically active.

Helen Pineo, associate director for cities at BRE, said the challenges are so great that they cannot be left to health services to resolve alone.

“Planners and designers all have a part to play in promoting health and well-being in our cities, and this protocol gives them the tools to create healthier places without requiring a knowledge of the specialist language of the health sector.”

Paul Grover, associate director at Arup and contributor to the research, added: “What is really unique about this research is the coming together of healthcare experts and built environment specialists to find practical measures that will help reduce preventable diseases and improve mental health. Often health measures are focused on an individual, but there are measures that cities can implement to promote and support health and well-being.”

The report can be found here.

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