Healthy Neighborhoods facilitate independent mobility

How a neighborhood is designed has a huge impact on the health of its residents.  The environment affects how much exercise we get, how strong our social immune system is, whether we can eat a healthy diet, and whether we have access to the health benefits of nature. While universities are developing this interdisciplinary field of knowledge and skills, city planners and elected officials need to collaborate with those in public health to make our cities more healthy. Please join us at the 55th International Making Cities Livable Conference on “Healthy, 10-Minute Neighborhoods” in Ottawa, May 14-18 to help achieve this.

A healthy neighborhood is one in which most trips – to school, shops, services, work, recreation, and public transit can be made by foot or bike within 10 minutes. At the 55th IMCL Conference we shall ask: “How must city planning change to improve public health?” We shall hear from over 100 speakers and panelists from 30 different countries addressing the following critical issues, and share our perspectives and experience in discussions and workshops.

1.              Facilitate independent mobility
2.              Facilitate contact with nature and make healthy food available
3.              Facilitate community social life
4.              Create healthy 10-minute neighborhoods
5.              Comparing healthy neighborhoods around the world

Richard J. Jackson, MD, MPH, author of Urban Sprawl and Public Health, and Designing Healthy Communities will set the stage for our deliberations in his opening keynote. Dick has led the way in raising international awareness of the impact of the built environment on health. We have a major crisis on our hands. Dick is emphatic in calling for us to adopt wiser planning procedures for the health of humans and the earth.

1.         Facilitate independent mobility

Unwalkable suburban sprawl and dependence on the automobile has spurred an obesity epidemic that brings with it chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, asthma, and liver disease. A healthy transportation policy must place first priority on walking, second on biking, third of public transit, and lastly on the car.

Most North American cities are struggling with the challenge of reducing automobile use, and still wondering whether the cost of installing bike lanes and public transportation is a necessary investment. They need their local public health officials to spur them to act.

Before a city can develop its own vision, it needs to see what other cities have done, and how they got there. To make streets and roads safer for pedestrians and bikers, and to reduce air pollution, traffic speeds must be reduced, especially on arterial roads. One tool for this is the roundabout, which improves traffic flow at safer speeds. Mayor James Brainard will show how Carmel, IN has now installed over 100 roundabouts.

European cities led the way in creating pedestrian zones, traffic calmed streets, bicycle networks, and public transit networks. Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million with very high density is currently engaged in a city-wide master plan to reduce health-threatening air pollution from automobile use and get more people walking and biking through its Superblock program. Two out of three streets will be transformed into green pedestrian streets or traffic calmed streets and the intersections will become green pedestrian oases. Mayor Ada Colau will receive the IMCL Cities of Vision Award for Barcelona’s Superblock program.

One of the most recent and beautifully paved pedestrian and traffic-calmed street networks is in the old city of Jerusalem. Ofer Manor, Jerusalem’s Chief Architect will show us how this has been achieved.

While the concept of the 10-minute neighborhood evokes a model that most can embrace, not everyone is able to walk or bike for ten minutes. Dorothy Riddle, President of Hidden Mobility Disabilities Alliance will discuss the challenges faced by persons who can walk only 35-50 feet without incurring serious health consequences.   “Planning focused on ‘walkable’ 10-minute neighborhoods needs to ensure that this growing segment of the population is not unintentionally barred from community participation” warns Riddle. “Without appropriate attention, public transit can entail too much walking or standing, and the insertion of bike paths and racks can eliminate the on-street parking needed for easy access to services.”

The City of Waterloo, ON asserts that Active Transportation is foundational to creating Healthy 10-Minute Neighbourhoods. Thee City gathered valuable data on trips using all transportation modes that strengthened their case to invest in not only what is needed on the ground to support active transportation, but how to get there – the policy, politics, and implementation process.  Louise Finlay, Project Manager, Bikeways, Trails and Greenspaces, Chris Dedman, Traffic Project Manager, and Councillor Diane Freeman from the City of Waterloo will discuss their process.

To increase cycling as a transportation mode a municipality has to know what works. Where should they invest their efforts? Marie-Eve Assuncao-Denis at McGill University looks at the most salient factors that have contributed to an increase in utilitarian cycling in ten different communities across Canada.

A good bicycle network is essential for encouraging people to go by bike, rather than by car. Rome is now developing a Great Cycle Ring (GRAB), which will be explained by Professors Cristina Imbroglini and Lucina Caravaggi from Rome’s Sapienza University.

For a neighborhood to be healthy, parks and social gathering places must be accessible within a 10-minute walk. How do you measure this 10-minute catchment area, and how do you decide where to locate new parks or social spaces? The Trust for Public Land in partnership with 130 mayors, is leading a national 10-Minute Walk (10MW) initiative to parks and green public spaces for every person in every city in the US.  Hanaa Hamdi, the Trust’s National Public Health Director will discuss the concept, strategic cross-sector partnership building, policies, implementation, and health impact assessments.

Resilience in urban mobility requires the integration of all potential active travel modes, including waterways where appropriate. Pawinee Iamtrakul, Professor at Thammasat University in Thailand will describe Bangkok’s innovative Hybrid Canal-Rail connectivity linking canal transit networks (ferries) to mass rapid transit lines.

In the next blog we shall look at more of the issues to be raised at the 55th IMCL conference regarding the second rule of a healthy neighborhood:  Facilitate contact with nature and make healthy food available.