Living healthy in the city
Are you living in a healthy city? If it is easy to transit from a point to another one without taking your car and if you have access to infrastructures where you can practice physical activities, you might live in such a city. What is a healthy city? Why this issue is so important? What can we do to make our environment favourable to good living habits?
New health problems
If concern of the health of people living in the cities is not new, the issues of today are not the same as they were in the past. Some decades ago, health problems in the city were related to industries and pollution. The cities were overpopulated and did not have proper infrastructures, particularly in sanitation and running water supplies. Because of bad hygiene, epidemics such a cholera, tuberculosis or yellow fever were common. Today, pollution is still responsible for respiratory diseases but so is our modern way of living. The use of the car led people to adopt a sedentary lifestyle which increased the risk of obesity and chronic diseases such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than five persons in ten live today in urban areas. By 2030, there will be six persons in ten living in towns and around seven persons in ten by 2050. If nothing is done by that time, we will have to face important costs in health, social inequalities and security due to this rapid urbanization. Given that these problems concern developed countries as well as the others, the WHO chose the issue of urban health for the World Health Day of 2010.
What characterizes a healthy city?
The urban environment can have positive or negative outcomes on health and researchers in public health and urban planning agree that our decision makers from both areas should collaborate when setting up public policies.
To develop sustainable communities and affect the health of people, various measures seem essential. It is important to have a low air pollution rate and to have access to quality water supply. Diversified neighbourhoods where we can find housing, shops, proximity of services (health centres, schools…) and infrastructures for practicing sports are to be encouraged.
A healthy city is also a place where its residents feel good and safe. Indeed, safe urban developments are necessary to encourage active transit. This can be done by simply installing more efficient street lighting. The town can also impose traffic measures where the riders of bicycles, cars and pedestrians can share the road, reducing the risks of accidents.
The role of design in promoting healthy living
Big cities like Paris and New York already have some characteristics of healthy cities (easiness to transit without using a car) and other measures have been taken to favour an active living (public bicycle share programs, creation of green pathways…). But these measures are not enough and to limit an epidemic of obesity, the City of New York published at the beginning of 2010 a guide meant for architects and urban designers. This guide describes best practices already developed and recommends measures to be taken.
When studying what has already been done, the authors of this document realized that an important variable was missing to make the urban environment more pleasant: the design. A recent study identified various design characteristics that should favour walking and physical activity. They include physical arrangements that capture attention, evoke feelings and that are built to match the size and proportions of humans.
The Hinnovic team presents a dossier on healthy places. With three interviews and a text, we invite you to discover what is being done in healthy cities and what the challenges we still need to face are.
A gym in a park
To favour physical activities among their residents, various towns in the world installed “gym centres” in their parks. These are outdoor fitness equipments built to be used by 14 years old and up, some of them are even adapted to 65 years old and up. By making these exercisers accessible to the population, the town allows its residents to exercise outside and without any membership.
More pictures available here.
|Author :||Pauline Boinot, M.Sc.|
Capon A. G., Blakely E. J., (2008), Checklist for healthy and sustainable communities, Journal of Green Building, 3 (2), 41-45
City of New York, (2010), Active Design Guidelines, Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Design
World Health Organization (2010), World Health Day 2010, Toolkit for event organizers (2010)