Interested in learning more about the links between road safety, active mobility and health? Access here our free webcast as part of our knowledge transfer in collaboration with GIZ Sustainable Urban Transport Program (SUTP) and World Health Organisation (WHO).
Urban living in the early part of the 21st century has not been good for children. The present generation are the least fit and the fattest that they have ever been. Social marginalisation, mental health problems and serious cardio-metabolic disorders have been on the rise in adolescence and early adulthood. On a more positive note, there is good international research evidence that many of these unwelcome facets of modern lifestyles for children could be eradicated through relatively small adjustments of the opportunities available to children, such as those that might be gained through active play and active travel to or from school.
These issues were the focus of discussion at the “Shaping Spaces for Gen-Z” Urban Thinkers Campus that was organised by the Urban Synergies Group and the Health Research Institute, University of Canberra on 8th March 2017. Hosted at the University of Canberra, Australia, the Campus focused on environments that foster healthy childhood development in the broadest sense of this term i.e. including mental and physical capacities, social and psychological development and connectedness to community. Child health, physical inactivity, environmental design, child empowerment and the right to play and interact were central themes.
The premises going in to the Forum were: (1) Current societal norms for the general physical condition of children are too low, (2) Current societal norms for body weight status are too high, (3) Many children today have fewer opportunities to develop social skills and psychological resilience than they would have had in the past and (4) To reverse these trends will require a societal shift, with specific objectives to be agreed as the core drivers for change and the available societal resources aligned to achieve those objectives. The societal challenges posed for discussion were:
- All children have the right to the best opportunities we can provide for their social, psychological and physical development – how can we do this better?
- We need to provide more opportunities for children to achieve and maintain good general levels of physical activities as a lifestyle norm – how can we achieve this?
One hundred and twenty delegates attended. There was good representation from the key stakeholder groups: Parents, General Public, Government, Non-Government Organisations, Health, Academia and Community Services. Education other than tertiary, Commercial organisations and Sports organisations were not well represented.
The “Shaping Spaces for Gen-Z” Urban Thinkers Campus, Canberra, Australia on 8th March 2017 contributed to the following 9 of 17 Sustainable Development Goals:
- Good health and well-being
- Quality education
- Gender equality
- Industry innovation and infrastructure
- Reduced inequalities
- Sustainable cities and communities
- Life on land
- Peace, justice and strong institutions
- Partnership on goal
The outcomes of the Urban Thinkers campus will be presented at a side event at the 26th UN-Habitat Governing Council Meeting in Nairobi on the 8th May 2017 between 1 and 1.45 pm in Conference room 11. Should you not be able to make it, don’t worry as the final report is now available. To access the core findings and co-designed solutions that can enable actions for better health outcomes for children and young people in urban systems access can be download here.
On the 2nd of March 2017 our Founder Greg Mews was invited by Lighthouse Business to introduce Urban Synergies Group vision to a wide audience in only five minutes. The topic was “The 100 year life” as part of their Festival of Ambitious ideas.
Check out the video clip and be part of the conversation.
First #UrbanThinkers campus for Asia Pacific was held in Canberra, Australia, on the 8th March 2017. More than 100 stakeholders engaged in discussing actions and solutions to transform our cities into healthy and playful environments for all.
Check out our short video from the event “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z” and watch this space for more information in the near future including the outcome report.
The organiser team from University of Canberra, Health Research Institute, and Urban Synergies Group would like to thank all those people that expressed interest and participated in the forum.
We would like to highlight the meaningful contribution of the ACT Government, being the key sponsor of the International Forum, as well as the Minister Fitzharris and Dr. Paul Kelly, Chief Health Officer. Our keynote presenter from Yale University Dr. Tong Liu shared insights into the social and emotional development of children. Prof. Tom Cochrane highlighted the pressing evidence relating to the state of health and physical inactivity of children in the ACT. The issues presentation included contributions on children and the built environment by Gregor H. Mews, Designs around the state of Children’s health by A/Prof. Lisa Scharoun, as well as on the importance of play presented by Dr. Tong Liu and A/Prof. Paul Tranter.
Our gratitude goes to our Master of Ceremony, Dr. Anthony Burton and all table coordinators that helped to capture the essence of the event and the In-kind support partners, including the ACT Government, ACT Council of Parents & Citizens Association, Australian Primary Principle Association, ACT Children and Young People Commissioner Jodie- Griffith- Cook, the ACT Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment with Dr. Kate Auty and Edwina Robinson, the Cross Culture Design Lab, Heart Foundation ACT with Annie Kentwell, Living Streets, Planning Institute of Australia ACT, SEE- Change and University of Canberra, Prof. Rachel Davey.
Watch this space for the outcome report and speakers presentations !
- Child friendly cities guided walk event on 18th March 2017
- Come to our next Urban Talks event in Canberra, Australia, 21st March 2017 on “Implementing the new urban agenda through accelerated actions on active travel” with a great range of speakers including the Dutch cycling ambassador.
How can we implement the New Urban Agenda?
What are your top three action items?
How can we at USG work with you to enable better health and wellbeing outcomes?
Regulatory government bodies should push large developments to be thinking about public realm upgrades and corresponding long-term cultural programs, to provide ways to enable social connection and so stimulate a sense of community. Bring back the ritual of having parties in the community, places where people can celebrate and meet. The participants stressed that an improved public realm is very important for sustainable communities.
Reinvestigate different sustainable urban forms in order to provide a greater housing choice and to allow affordability with the interface dynamics of the region in mind.
Improve strategic planning and investment in productivity in peri-urban areas under the assumption that some people do want to live in those areas.
Another area for collective action was identified in relation to productive use of space in the city: the role of autonomous vehicles and future transport corridors function.
Cities need to be committed to deliver better overall sustainability outcomes. There must be an open debate and actions around optimal instead of maximum productivity.
Questions such as ‘How many resources are different population groups willing to consume and give up?’ ‘How do we want to live in this new urban world?’ and ‘What are the choices we need to make in order to ensure health and wellbeing for all?’ must be resolved.
Research and existing findings on people’s lifestyle choices in relation to sustainability must be effectively translated and communicated ensuring that people can make better informed choices. Grassroots groups, civil societies, social entrepreneurships and governments need to collaborate more effectively.
Urban Synergies Group was acknowledged as a key partner that provides a platform for these discussions and exploration of collaboration. This article was also published by our partner the World Urban Campaign late 2016 and can be accessed by clicking here.
The Urban Synergies Group team is looking forward to see you there. The event will also be recorded and can be viewed later in the editorial section on this website.
Please RSVP until the 20th March, by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
“Play is the way children
make sense of the world
in which they live!”
This is an interview with Gregor H. Mews, Founding Director of Urban Synergies Group, on insights around the need for a Forum on healthy child development and their environments in Australia.
1. Why are you organising a forum, and what do you anticipate to achieve with it?
We at Urban Synergies Group, together with our partner the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra, found sufficient evidence that indicates the health conditions of children in Australia are concerning.
The international forum “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z“ is part of our collaborative commitment to shed light on an important societal issue, that cannot continue to be ignored. Our message is clear and simple- we need to do better. If we want to ensure that future generations can enjoy equal opportunities, prosper and develop to their full potential, we need to explore new approaches to decision making around such ‘societal’ challenges. Collective actions need collective discussions and a fair, informed process for key decision making.
With this forum, we want to create a platform where we can come together with all relevant stakeholders and passionate members of the community, including concerned parents to do something about this societal challenge.
We will attempt to answer two questions. Firstly, how can we provide more daily opportunity for children to develop the social and emotional skills, psychological resilience and physical attributes to enable them to succeed in life as independent individuals? Secondly, how best do we align our collective resources to reconfigure our environments and the opportunities available to children within them in a fair, effective, efficient and cost-effective manner?
2. Why do you focus on child play, and what kind of relation does it have to obesity?
From our own data gathered since 2000, 69% of primary school children in the ACT are of low general fitness and 1 in 4 are classified as over a healthy weight. Children’s gross motor skills are another area of serious concern. We observed children that are unable to walk properly backwards, because they never had the opportunity to explore and engage in risky experiences on their terms. In our society the perception of risk has shifted. The ACT Government is aware of this and is committed to address this issue. Many Non-government organisations are doing their very best to reverse this health crisis.
Play offers a very potent narrative for children to engage in a meaningful way with the natural world around them, if we allow them to have enough space and time. Indeed, evidence suggests who children that engage regularly in outdoor play have higher levels of physical activity. Children are not even aware that they are getting healthier, because it is simply fun. Playful experiences offer mental health benefits and improve their capacity to be creative as well as learn important social skills. We are thrilled to have our colleagues from Yale University join us on the day, sharing their latest research findings.
However, despite of all the evidence, the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child clearly states in article 31, that children have a right to play. In theory, this alone should be enough reason for adults to make sure their children have enough time and space for playful experiences in our cities. The health data helps to strengthen the case for play.
3. Is there a big cost associated with transitioning environments to allow for adequate physical exercise, what is this compared to the greater cost of childhood obesity?
True, there is a high cost associated with childhood obesity, which puts pressure onto the healthcare budgets, not just in Australia but worldwide. Combining these costs with physical inactivity as an independent risk factor is even more compelling. Infrastructure interventions in the built environment cost money and can have a lasting impact over their lifespan. This can be more or less helpful to achieve better health outcomes. Spent in an effective way, a piece of health supporting infrastructure, for example a safe and inclusive bike lane or footpath connecting attractive destinations, can become an effective measure in preventing diseases. However, the questions we should be asking ourselves are; how much do you value your own life? Can you put a price tag on it? Perhaps you want to be loved, spend as much time as possible with people you care about, grow up in comfortable home and have access to clean and safe environments. All of these contribute to your overall health and well-being. So I’d like to ask you why do you choose to spend these days so little time among your loved ones, feel like you need to spend more money on a bigger house, and pollute the environment contributing to an ecological footprint that is now five times higher than this earth’s carrying capacity? The price tag is our children’s overall well-being and we all are starting to pay for it. They are becoming fatter as well as sicker and sadder. Playful spaces near you can be part of the solution. Share your thoughts with us, be part of the debate and help us shape spaces for future generations on Wednesday 8th March.
Useful information about Shaping Spaces for Gen Z
The debate about Capital Metro in Canberra, Australia, has focused on net impact (with analysis suggesting 60% of benefits consist of wider or indirect economic benefits). But who gains and who loses potentially?
Light rail done well in Potsdam, Germany (Source: Gregor H. Mews)
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Canberra Health Research Institute undertook a literature survey of studies of existing light rail projects globally, identifying potential wider co-benefits (economic, social and health related) of such projects. Assuming, as the literature suggests, that value uplift (increase in land value) directly attributable to light rail is marginal because so many other factors affect land value, but value capture (the capacity for attracting development finance) is strong, we offer:
(a) The likely biggest winners, from largest to smallest:
- The ACT government. Government-owned land value, and the number of dwellings along the corridor, will increase, driving up government revenues. (Netting out coverage of project costs). Of course ultimately these revenues will be spent across the ACT community but the benefits to individuals, dispersed across 300 000+ taxpayers, are difficult to extrapolate right now.
- Property developers. The property industry will enjoy the value capture benefits of the project by leveraging the public investment in light rail, especially with an improved ability to attract finance at lowered cost.
- Property investors. Property investors along the corridor will gain from higher property values in response to increased demand for apartment accommodation in the city. ABS data show that new unit development in the ACT had a 32 per cent increase in new projects between 2014 and 2015, highest of all construction classes.
- Gungahlin ‘edge’ residents. Research shows that single corridor rail projects such as the Capital Metro will actually benefit residents living on the outer edge of Gungahlin (and rural residential areas over the border), especially if the park and ride facility at the Gungahlin town centre terminus is free. A recent Australian Automobile Association study showed that in Canberra, the total cost of car ownership is just under $300 per week, the cheapest for capital cities. So Gungahlin edge commuters who currently travel the furthest to the city by car can benefit from travelling by car to the Gungahlin terminus, catching the light rail into town, then traveling to the terminus on uncongested roads and speeding along the tram route to their work. Over-the-border residents have light rail access without paying rates.
- Auto commuters along the route. Commuters who choose to continue to travel to work by car along the tram route will also gain a marginal net benefit from reduced congestion.
(b) The likely losers, from smallest to largest:
- Some ACT residents (excluding Gungahlin) living more than 1 kilometre from the tram. Those unable or unwilling to walk or cycle to a tram stop will contribute to the project through taxes but not benefit from either value uplift or enjoy tram travel time savings. (As the network expands beyond its first phase more residents will benefit).
- Already active travellers who currently live along the corridor (especially renters). The rate of active travel is highest in the inner north of Canberra. Many residents choose to live in these suburbs to be able to enjoy close proximity to employment and services. Light rail provides no additional benefit to them but does lead to higher housing costs.
- Some small and medium enterprises along the corridor. Research shows that one of the biggest economic effects of light rail is changing the mix of commercial activity along the corridor. Some firms will gain but the others will lose since some retail outlets and services may be forced to close or move out of the area.
- Rail users with complex travel tours. A travel tour refers to the number and diversity of activities that a user undertakes during a daily commute. The simplest tour is a return trip from home to work. More complex tours are undertaken by families with young children. The single corridor design of Capital Metro will not be able to cater for all the activities undertaken by families needing to visit many destinations during a typical working day. These groups will likely have to continue to own cars until most activities (e.g. afterschool activities) are relocated closer to the rail route – unlikely to happen any time soon.
Existing private renters, especially lower and fixed income. Research shows that economic activity along light rail corridors is largely captured by the gentrification of adjacent land up to 1 kilometre from tram stops. This is often facilitated by government policies to do with zoning and incentivising development. While governments can put in place programs to support those on public housing, residents in the rental market are often forced out through higher rates and therefore are the biggest losers.
About the authors
Dr. Andrew MacKenzie is an Devotee of Urban Synergies Group as well as a Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra and Dr. Cameron Gordon is an Adjunct Associate Professor with the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra and both were principal investigators on the study above. Both can be contacted through info (at) urbansynergiesgroup.org .
More and more people live in cities. In 2014 the human race reached an urbanisation level of more than 50 percent. If this trend continues by 2050, 66 percent of us will live in cities. At the same time global disease patterns are changing. Depression is on the rise and accidents caused by traffic will increase dramatically.
What could we do to prevent these diseases and incidents from rising. Public transport and bicycling as a preferred form of transport can help. But the majority of urban systems are not designed for it or just starting to invest in it. Optimistically they are still 20 to 30 years behind cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Münster.
Could there be something out there that could help to reduce or even prevent lifestyle related diseases such as obesity, physical inactivity and depression? Something that fundamentally touches our spirits, uplifts us and contributes to a reduction of traffic accidents? Something that every government and decision maker should be excited about, because its easy, cheap, simple and can become extremely popular if we all commit to it?
If city governments would invest in policies for it, it could transform urban systems and make people’s everyday life more liveable. It would enable a meaningful pathway to improve social, environmental and economic performance.
It will help you to become more creative, relaxed, socially connected and productive. Also it can increase capacity for innovation- simply put- it may achieve better health and well-being outcomes on all scales.
The answer to all that is play. It is an intrinsic induced activity, that constitutes freedom, based on the acceptance of risk in its temporary transformational nature. Play is not structured sport and includes attributes such as spontaneity, curiosity and creative processes that voluntarily occur outside of the ordinary. This purposeless activity is necessary to the human identity as an exploratory pursuit of pleasure and comfort outside of social purpose.
You can have it and older people have certainly experienced it. Children are champions in it, if we let them.
Most people associate play with fun and in theory it can occur anywhere. But why doesn’t it and why are we not playing more often across all ages in every city.
Once we are developed we just stop! Why? For example, in every professional context and learning exercise we now speak of lifelong learning or lifelong development. If we want to seek and embrace development we shall not stop playing.
Evidence suggests that play is not just important for children, but fundamental for their overall developmental capacity. The co- benefits for adults are overwhelming. Contact with nature and other beings has surprising effects on your mental health. Sufficient amount of physical activity in other words walking in a moderate speed can contribute to physical health and well-being.
Each of us has this gift, but when we grow up we are less often engaging in it?
Here is a little story a child has written, that may give you a idea:
“Dear King, I’ve got a question. Must life be so fast? For us it is like that: In the morning I have to get up quickly and then I get quickly dressed. After a fast breakfast, I quickly brush my teeth. Then very quickly we got to go to the kindergarten. In the kindergarten we have to hurry up when dressing and undressing, tidying up also has to be fast and when we are outside we must come inside quickly, so that everyone can eat on time. Then I have to go home in the afternoon quickly. Tuesdays mom drops me quickly of at music lessons and twice a week we go quickly shopping. On Wednesday we have to go quickly over to Grandma Hilde and check whether everything is okay with her. On Fridays we always put quickly the garbage out, and on that day we must also quickly pour water over all the flowers on the balcony. Every evening around 8 pm Mama wants to watch the news very quickly, otherwise she does not know what’s going on in the world. Then I’ll go very quickly to bed and try to fall fast asleep. I ask you: Does life have to be so fast? Because – then it means that it is very quickly over!”
Could it be that in our collective obsession to satisfy our material desires we are so out of balance in the western world?
An ancient African proverb says “It takes an entire village to raise a child”. This takes time and if you care about your children and the next generation – don’t just think about play but engage in it as part of your everyday life.
It is a fun and engaging way to restore the balance and unlocking the benefits of health and well-being – all you need to do is stop seeing it as a waste of time and space. Reconnect with your senses and with your community around you. Otherwise why is it so important for our children?
In conclusion I’d like to invite you to bring play back into your life. All it takes is a bit of time, trust and space.
Author: Gregor H. Mews