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
Imagine a world of urban mobility where you don’t have to think about how much fuel costs today, about how long you will be stuck in traffic on your daily commute to work, about the perceived unsafe environment around your local school caused by the traffic or how hard it is to find a car park near your destination. Imagine urban systems that support a zero transport emission future, that foster social cohesion and can enable better health outcomes for all people who live, work and play there.
This scenario can work and is being executed in an open lab environment in several places around the globe. New integrative approaches, smart evidence based policy decision, long term political commitment and leadership, concerted efforts of industry, academia, governments and non government partners including holistic cost benefit modelling around sustainable transport infrastructure led to a trial of a new generation of mobility that is truly sustainable.
Eco-mobility means an integrated form of environmentally sustainable mobility that combines the use of non motorized forms of transport including the use of public transport to allow people to move in their local environments without relying on privately owned motor vehicles. It includes those forms of personal mobility undertaken by walking, bicycling, wheeling and public transport powered by renewable energies.
For example cities such as Freiburg in Breisgau (Germany), Portland in Oregon (USA), Muenster (Germany) or Suwon (South Korea) are taking on this vision.
These cities are committed to transforming their transportation systems and creating new markets for symbiotic economies with a whole of system approach that benefits all people.
How can we achieve this vision in the Australian context and can it offer benefits to all Australians living in urban systems?
We know that there is a need for ambitious cities in Australia that want to provide outstanding leadership and long standing commitment to achieving excellent results in certain dimensions of sustainable mobility. Cities that strive to reach similar results in other eco-mobility fields and increase the share of non-motorized or public transports.
The City of Sydney is one of the first that recently has shown this through political leadership.
What we need are more brave cities where citizens can enjoy a high quality of life and access goods, services, people and information in a sustainable and convenient manner. Enhancing and sustaining our natural environment while maximising efficiencies in the built form is important in working towards better overall sustainability outcomes throughout the country.
Integrated smart urban growth, renewable energy systems and sustainable transport infrastructure will support prosperity of the Australian standard of living. New incentives, intelligent long term strategic policies and guidelines can create a new paradigm model that allow new “smarter” industries to prosper, offering more employment options.
Eco- mobility, with sustainable transport infrastructure linked to renewable energy in its core, will help to improve health and wellbeing of the people living in and between our urbanised areas.
If we are committed in delivering a productive, prosperous, sustainable and healthy urban future for all people in this country, we need to set clear, transparent rules and incentives that create certainty through a brave and strategic approach in transport, land use management, planning and equitable monetary support systems.
For example this includes revealing and transferring the true cost of parking to end users, adopting a preferred cost-benefit model for walking and bicycling infrastructure. A model that includes health mortality, morbidity and quality needs assessment when prioritising investments to maximise infrastructure investment return for all tax payers. Another important example is the enhancement of synergies and value parameters between ATC National Guidelines for Integrated Passenger Transport and Land use planning with the National Guidelines for Transport System Management (NGTSM).
Recently the Moving people 2030 Taskforce released its report “Moving Australia 2030 – A transport plan for a productive and active Australia”. This document represents an important and achievable vision and path forward for the federal government.
But what does that all mean from a local perspective here in Canberra? The ACT Government released in March 2012 its Transport for Canberra with the commitment to increase the mode share target for journey’s to work up to 30 % for walking, bicycling and public transport use by 2026.
In order to achieve the targets the ACT government is currently placing its emphasis on a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, and commenced work on a more holistic and integrated policy for walking and bicycling. Also noteworthy is the planning for the Canberra Capital Metro light rail connection between Gungahlin and the city area of Canberra with potential extension towards the airport. Alongside better land use integration on corridors and increased density in town centres this should support higher patronage. A comprehensive policy response with education, proper evaluation, social marketing, supportive infrastructure such as bike’n’ride facilities and path integration shall result into better health outcomes where people who catch public transport or walk and use bicycle meet their daily physical activity intake as part of their routine.
However, change in the built form takes time as well as needing sufficient funding and a long term vision. As Paul Mees & Lucy Groenharts RMIT report “Transport Policy at the Crossroads: Travel to work in Australian capital cities 1976-2011” indicated the implementation of a reliable transport network can be achieved earlier with a slightly different approach. The question is to what price and how quickly? It is suggested “to replace its current transport policies with an approach based on the experience of cities where public transport has succeeded, not those where it has failed.” (Mees, p. 26. 2012).
- Firstly, the ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability’s Eco- mobility Alliance offers an ideal pathway to do exactly that. It can help to create and implement innovative policy solutions around personal and truly sustainable mobility for the 21st century.
- Secondly, a more holistic and preferred approach to cost benefit for active transport infrastructure will help to build this business case.
- Thirdly, guidelines such as Heart Foundations ACT’s Active Living Impact Checklist for developments can make a meaningful contribution from the bottom up when it comes to changes in built form. Concerted effort of community, government, industry, academia and non government stakeholders is important when it come to good governance on this complex issue.
Federal support is welcome in particular if we want to increase liveability, productivity and to create resilience through better transport systems.
Learning from abroad
Transport policy history experience from Germany has shown that a substantial and long term interest in urban transport planning with a strong support from the federal government made a significant contribution in achieving integrated systems. However the new challenge is to make linkages to renewable energy use, and appropriate pricing that drives effective behaviour change to enable a new personal mobility system that can utilise peoples GIS responsive devices with one touch systems.
I’d like to call this the creation of an easy, sustainable travel “cocktail mix”. Your trip won’t be made by car use only, rather you will be part of a post personal vehicle society where you use walking, bicycling, wheeling, e- car-sharing, as well as public transport. This integrated approach in a changing society will and can enable an energy efficient, smart and healthy way of getting to and from people we care about.
Personally, at the end of my life I don’t want to be one of these people having to explain to the next generation that simply the prevailing believe in perceived ‘convenience of car’ led to global unprecedented state of the environment destruction, urban system failure and potential decline of healthy civil societies.
History has shown us that when we are confronted with a serious crisis we can come together, become innovators and create better solution that can make this world a better place. I consciously choose to help drive positive change towards a truly healthy, sustainable and equitable mobility future for all people in my city. I hope you may choose to in your community as well!
The following ideas and suggestion may benefit the process of creating a better bicycling strategy and hopefully healthier urban fabrics in the long run. However it’s also based on the assumption that content research, data collection has been undertaken for your particular local government area prior overlaying these suggestions.
- 1. Compelling
A good bicycling strategy should carry through a compelling lifestyle message that is aligned with the long- term vision of your city or municipality e.g. a sustainable, prosperous, healthy and liveable. This needs to be supported by strong and imaginative visuals throughout the strategy and I don’t mean just male dominated sport cyclists.
- 2. Goal setting
Be clear about your most powerful message in your current political environment of your city. Have a realistic target and focus on how do get there- this should be the new reality on the horizon of your urban environment. Have an integrated and whole of government approach as part of the exercise.
Prevent unrealistic expectation by communicating projected budget allocations early. As long you don’t have the money you will find it hard to implement actions.
- 3. Communication of benefits
Instead of focusing on the issues, celebrate the potential benefits that every member of the community will have because of this strategy. For example economical benefits, CO2 emission savings, less road network congestions, less air and noise pollution, social inclusion, safer, health benefits, happier and more child friendly environments.
Stylish easy to read graphs, facts, simple and consistent language/ terminology should make it easy for all members of the community to understand the bicycling strategy.
Use before and after shots or photomontages, illustrate in sections of the strategy different bicycle users in different problem situation and show what you might be able to do about it as part of the strategy.
- 4. Community consultation
Include holistically active and meaningful engagement opportunities for the community members and stakeholders groups. For example arrange sessions where the existing users are: coffee shops, at street festivals, at workplaces, in schools and universities, at popular bicycle destinations. No one knows a network better than the people who are using it every day.
Most importantly ensure that the community is empowered, feels that you have heard them and you understand what needs to be done. Therefore effective prioritisation and inclusion of innovative concepts support commitment and vision.
Do it proper in the first instance as it will save you a lot of hassle and time later!
- 5. Pure happiness
Evidence suggested that people that are more physical active as part of their daily routine enjoy incredible physical and mental health benefits. Harness this energy and celebrate the civil community through colourful and inclusive images that aim to mainstream bicycling in your community. Make sure images are from your local community and are high in quality. Do this in the strategy documents, at consultation sessions as well as use these images for campaigns afterwards.
- 6. Convenience mapping
Demonstrate in easy to read maps that you are seeking to create a network of convenience for bicycle users. Make sure that members of the community understand that is very much part of an ongoing conversation and by no means a map that is set in stone. You are keen to hear more and create ongoing conversation channels with the community e.g. bicycle hotline, online portal, Bicycle Advisory group to the government. Utilise projects that are already working in the city very well and celebrate these early wins and commit to what you can do with projected budget in the future and perhaps do it even better!
- 7. Bicycle brand label
Branding is very much part of the contemporary zeitgeist and if you are committed to make a valuable contribution to a bicycle revolution- show leadership by creating with the community a unique and strong brand label. Supported by a strong slogan or claim this should be included and integrated in many of your city programs e.g. tourism (cups, t-shirts, stickers, flags), active transport (stencilled on the paths, displayed on traffic messaging boards, in busses), health messaging (TV adds, workplaces), infrastructure provision (in bus shelters, on water bubblers, light poles, community message boards, shop fronts).
- 8.Comfort and safety
Comfort and safety comes first -provide options on how to achieve realistic, sustainable and better network maintenance. Demonstrate pride and include some of your local government staff members from the maintenance team in the strategy and communication e.g. in images showing them at work.
As one size doesn’t fit all – address what want people perceive as a serious safety barrier to bicycling more often. Stick with the realistic arguments, as we won’t be able to change the weather. Apply the following hierarchy:
- Children and older members of the community
- Urban ‘hipsters’
- Employees (commuter cyclists)
Showcase solutions such as some big-ticket items e.g. new separated off road bike lane or child friendly neighbourhoods, as well as small but effective ways that can have a big impact e.g. bike priority on intersection.
- 9. Time travel
The contemporary urban society is often suffering on the perceived issue of not enough time and therefore you need to think about of ways how to improve the real time travelled on bicycles in a direct and effective manner. A dear colleague of mine Dr Paul Tranter has done some excellent work on “effective speeds” in urban environments and strongly suggests getting hold of some of his research findings.
As part of demonstrating the benefits of short travel times on bike perhaps think about the introduction of digital message boards that display travel times for bicyclist compared to vehicles along selected routes. This can be powerful in creating strong messages for behaviour change.
Focus also on how people may go further and quicker by considering new infrastructure such as bicycle highways in appropriate parts your city, or better integration with other means of travel e.g. bike’n’ride or bike racks on all busses.
Make sure you are able to have a summary of your entire strategy on one page available. This should include referencing of modal split as well as cross- references to head topics in the strategy itself with projected targets. Include links to the ongoing communication stream. This is useful for you in meetings and for every stakeholder or interested party to advocate for the collective ideas to make your city a better, healthier and more liveable place.
Let’s face it – the ‘dry’ and not so sexy stuff in urban design matters too. Of course is good fun to talk about quality urban design outcomes and the colourful bicycle culture..but..if we want to be serious about providing a healthy environment for us and for future generations we need to make sure that we treat Canberra as a collection of small towns with one higher services centre (civic), many of the with they own set of shops, commercial, businesses and most importantly utilise the different community wisdom – working together in the spirit of empowerment, collaboration and content awareness.
Who are we?
In the year 2006, 333,940 people lived and spread over 2,358 square km in the ACT with a population density of 142.1 people per square km. This is overall for a capital city exceptionally low and provides a number challenges in terms to providing equal services to it’s population in particular with its growing Greenfield developments, with regards to our sustainability paradigm and health to is residents.
What can we celebrate?
It is also quite remarkable that we can enjoy access to some of the country highly regarded institutions such as the National Library, National Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, National Film and Sound Archives, Australian National University etc.
I’d like to point out that the word ‘national’ occurs frequently in the names and underpins Canberra’s status as the national capital with significance. In other words the average Canberra household is living predominantly a small town environment with a comparable excellent access level to formal social infrastructure. Often referred to overall comparable high quality lifestyle.
Having mentioned all that it becomes self evident that we can treat Canberra as a collection of towns with national significance.
Let’s cross-reference internationally!
Germany and Australia- despite two major differences a) a 20 year policy head start and b) most of the collective dwelling history started before the age of car – I’d like to compare the earlier mentioned set of data to one of Germany’s largest regional district called Landkreis Potsdam- Mittelmark in the state of Brandenburg. Its size is approximately 2,575 square km with a population of 204,594 (2010). Population density account to 79 people per square km.-
A closer look!
Let me draw for you a better picture of the Landkreis Potsdam Mittelmark. The region contains ten largish towns (more than 10,000 people each) spread over the area. Given that it’s geographically closely connected to state capital Potsdam, which has similar amount formal institution as Canberra (UNESCO world cultural heritage) and offers a high level of sophisticated services to its population.
So if you add up Potsdam’s stats with these from the Landkreis we achieve an overall geographical size of 2,762.38 square km and overall population of 359,200. The city has a density of 825 people per square km and allows a high level of green transport choices including light, heavy rail, busses – hint economy of scale- as well as a excellent network of walking and cycling infrastructure.
How are we actually performing?
In both cases, the ACT and Potsdam/ Landkreis Potsdam Mittelmark, provide similar service level, commercial activities and offer public transport for its residents. Each suburb/town has a slightly different spirit and mix of interest groups, but interestingly both perform differently through comparing energy and transport matters in a spatially sense?
Both have a large amount of national park or conservation areas, Potsdam and Potsdam Mittelmark 25 in total- Canberra with the National Capital Open Space System and Alpine Parks in the south.
The share of renewable energy sources in the German case increased in just 6 years from 4.2 % (2000) to 34,4 % (2006). The latest data shows a further increase to 47 % in 2008. Due to the average 4.2 to 4.7 hours sunshine per day, they use a mix of renewable energy sources ranging from biomass, wind, solar and geothermal. Simultaneously the overall electricity consumption is declining, made possible through effective communication, empowerment, collaboration, new technologies leading to behaviour change resulting in 3.3 tonnes of CO2 per capita.
Canberra invested recently a lot in solar energy with its individual subsidies/ feed in- tarif and the recent announcement to construct it’s first large scale solar facility. Also the ACT Government released recently its ‘Weathering the Change Action Plan Stage 2’ strategy and is currently using 9.2 global hectares per capita (2009), of which is 12 % is electricity related consumption.
Transport wise the German case ranges from 37% private vehicle share in Potsdam and 50 % private vehicle as the choice of transport in the regional area. This means even in an environmentally aware society the car will still have a role to play in the short to medium term.
However the difference between Potsdam and its surrounding regional area indicates that the car doesn’t have to be the king.
In a built environment that is compact enough to create convenience for all it’s people, with a diversity of land uses, high quality destinations, quality open space network it is possible to reach a higher modal split (20 % bicycle, 23 % walking, 20% public transport). In areas further away from Potsdam, compact towns achieve a share of 30 % people walking and bicycling and 8 % public transport. It is also important to mention that there is a gap in the modal share as the rest may use heavy rail to get into the main centre. The current methods of data collection point out that lack of data.
In terms of the Canberra case – the ‘Transport for Canberra’ strategy indicated a historical car dominance and commitment to create a better and more equitable as well as holistic transport network choices through a bus- and potentially light rail network. There is also a solid amount of active travel work integrated.
Canberra’s modal split in 2006 was 5 % walking, 2.5 % cycling, 7.9 % public transport and 84.6 % private vehicle. The new target is to have 7% walking, 7% cycling and 16 % public transport by 2026.
This is very ambitious as it refers to travel to work trips only and in accordance to the research findings of Jan Gehl around 80 % of active travel trips are account for not work related trips.
Strong links with the planning strategy have been taken into consideration and a commitment to a compact city approach is welcome.
But the work has really just started, if we want get rid of the white elephant!
In conclusion both cases are comparable on a number of items, the German case shows a lot of success stories with a history of 10 years in good policy implementation – in accordance to Agenda 21- that supports innovative governance and cooperation rather a traditional government approach.
Citizen control, delegated power and partnerships are needed to ensure overall success.
However, in the German case not everything worked out either, because one big limitation was the financial disparity between remote areas and the urban centre.
The ACT Government is showing a great deal of commitment and honest intend (strategies are in place)- let’s just hope that on implementation level structural disparities can be bridged and good outcomes achieved by a) acknowledging the spatial differences and b) achieving a good governance model that embraces and supports collective community wisdom.
Australia’s population is expected to reach 35 million by 2050 and the nation’s regional towns will play an important role in supporting sustainable growth and connecting people with employment hubs. Transit-oriented development will be pivotal in ensuring that regional centres remain healthy and sustainable communities as they continue to grow. We had the chance to catch up with Greg Mews, Active Living Coordinator at the Heart Foundation and speak about the complex interrelationship between urban and transit planning, density and public health.
Question: What planning and transport parameters do regional towns need to consider to encourage active and healthy communities today and in the future?
Before I am able to answer this question I’d like to highlight that we cannot continue with our current “business as usual” approach to policies and strategies. We are facing a number of significant challenges in transport, climate change, liveability and public health. As for public health challenges, the rates of overweight and obese Australian adults has doubled over the past two decades, with Australia now ranked as one of the fattest of the developed nations. Overweight and obesity affects about one in two Australian adults and up to one in four children. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the country, with almost 50,000 deaths in 2008. CVD is responsible for more deaths than any other disease group.
Regular physical activity plays an important role in promoting healthy weight and reducing the risk of cardiovascular and other lifestyle-related diseases. Conversely, sedentary behaviours at home, in transit and at work are independently linked with overweight, obesity and poor health.
For this reason the 2010 National Preventative Health Task Force report, “Australia: the healthiest country by 2020“, identified the need to reshape urban environments through consistent town planning and building design that encourages greater levels of participation in physical activity and through appropriate infrastructure investments in walking, biking, food supply and recreation.
The World Health Organization reports that one-third of physical inactivity can be prevented by changing the local environment alone. This means across the board we need rethink our approaches around planning and design of the built environment, including open spaces, health, active transport, sustainability in infrastructure and activation of other resources that activate the public realm. We have been able to engineer physical activity out of our daily routines and are now paying the price for it. Physical inactivity costs the health budget an estimate of $1.5bn a year and the economy $13bn a year.
Sedentary behaviours are influenced by increasing car dependency, built environments that do not support active and healthy lifestyles, an increasing reliance on advancing technology and modern conveniences, and occupations that impose prolonged sitting times. One study found that each additional hour spent in a car each day was associated with a six per cent increase in the likelihood of obesity. Conversely, each additional kilometre walked per day was associated with a five per cent reduction in the likelihood of obesity.
Regional towns and cities will have a very important role to play in encouraging a more active and healthy lifestyle. The 2011 State of Australian cities report confirmed that older Australians are moving away from cities with a similar trend among younger Australians and higher skilled people moving to near-city and coastal regional areas. If we are committed to achieving healthier and more active communities we need to ensure all people including the elderly, the young, and the disabled, have equal access opportunities to convenient and safe active transport systems that are supported by innovative land use forms.
Question: How can walking and cycling be better integrated with existing transport modes?
There are plenty of examples from around the globe and increasingly from within Australia showcasing innovation in better integration of active travel into existing networks. Perth has now a good head start in experimenting with transport-oriented developments and the South Australian Government released last year their guideline documents called “Transit-oriented developments…through a health lens“. The ACT government just endorsed the Transport for Canberra Strategy, which is truly an integrated strategy that offers a lot of good solutions.
However these are all prominent projects that demonstrate leadership in absence of a clear overall direction from the federal government. What we need is an integrated national active transport strategy, established by an independent national active transport authority, which embraces policies and planning for walking, cycling and public transport. This will be instrumental in providing consistent framework and help to overcome the current challenges.
Question: Density is often stated as a crucial factor when it comes to providing regular and reliable transport services. Thinking globally, what are the most creative approaches you have seen in improving access to public and active transport infrastructure in low density regions?
Greg Mews: Paul Mees the author of “Transport for suburbia” (read a book review here) might be the best person to ask this questions but from a planning/design perspective “density” or as I’d like to refer it to “compact built form” can be beneficial to achieve reliable transport services if done right. What does this mean? It’s more about diversity around land use and density rather than radical densification. If corridor intensification is the chosen option to achieve better public transport service outcomes then it must be:
a) balanced with a mixed form of land use, which helps to reduce distance travelled;
b) come with good traffic regulations and enforcement (parking restrictions etc.);
c) the urban design in corridors and around hubs need to be in human scale, with quality open space and quality architecture;
d) In particular in the Australian context we need to overcome the thinking that public transport stops need to be attached or next to highways or main roads;
e) Foremost any development within an existing/ established neighbourhood environment needs to have the support of a representative majority of the community.
However I’d like to refer to two cities, which have done an excellent job in achieving innovative results around improving access to active and public transport. First is Freiburg in Germany, most people may already studied or heard of the district Vauban, where they achieved in an extraordinary exemplar case to reverse the transport hierarchy, which means people first, then bicycles, then public transport and private vehicle last. If you think this could not be achieved in an English speaking country I’d like to highlight the exemplar case of the city of Portland, Oregon USA.
Question: What constitutes good levels of density from a health and active living perspective?
Greg Mews: I hope my previous question answered this to a degree. However I’ve recently taken part in a conference of the Urban Age project, a global investigation into the futures of our cities, organised by the London School of Economics. Under the umbrella “Cities, health and wellbeing” we discussed density and the impacts on human health in the case of Hong Kong with its hyper density and very efficient public transport system. We found that this is a rather inherently complex issue.
Knowledge exchange around latest evidence, evaluation, research and strategies is essential in finding a local solution to the issue. Wherever I have worked the local climate, culture, ecosystem, planning systems were very unique and evidence as well as local knowledge seems to me the most sensible way forward in determining the best density and health outcomes for a city.
On that note I might say that the Heart Foundation has just released a report on precisely this matter. In May 2012 we will also publish our Active Living Impact Checklist for developments that can help achieving better outcomes for physical activity on site specific level. Healthy Spaces and Places, the national guide to designing places for healthy living, developed in the unique partnership between the Planning Institute of Australia, the Australian Local Government Association as well as the Heart Foundation, offers a range of solutions and ideas for healthier neighbourhoods in Australia.
Question: You will be presenting at the inaugural Regional Transport conference, to be held on the 22nd and 23rd May at the Gold Coast. What discussions would you like to have with industry peers at the forum?
Greg Mews: In order to increase walking, cycling and public transport use it is necessary to reduce car use. I’d be very curious to have an informed discussion around how we can achieve the most cost effective way in delivering an improved public transport service that offers a real alternative to the private vehicle in the Australian context. Only if we make active travel an easy and convenient option we have a chance to overcome many of our current challenges.
Changing the economics of car use towards a system that encourages a more rational consideration of modal choice might be a way forward. As well as having a debate around transport modelling for regional areas to ensure that the models represent travel and location behaviour in an effective manner. Variables such as physical activity need to be included as well as cost effectiveness of making changes to the existing modelling system.
More under the following link http://www.informa.com.au/conferences/transport/infrastructure/regional-transport/interview-with-greg-mews
3 cars stop, 24 people cross the street and 7 bicycles cruise along within 10 seconds on a Friday afternoon in Bunda Street, Canberra. I am sitting in a street café overlooking a zebra crossing between the Canberra Centre and City Walk.
3 cars, 24 people and 7 bicycles – an interesting modal split that made me think about joining the dots and drawing a picture in regard to appropriate street design with people in mind.
My first dot will be around the latest initiative by the Australian Federal Government, which recently launched the National Urban Design Protocol with the ideal title “Creating places for people”. The document aims to define high quality urban design and to provide a consistent quality framework for future design throughout the country.
My second dot will provide a connection to this initiative and what happens (or still does not happen) on the ground. For example, the National Capital Authority recently announced a delay in rolling out an urban design project for Bowens Crossing until 2014, the year afterCanberra’s Centennary. The reason for the delay is cited as a funding shortfall resulting from major capital maintenance works to be undertaken on Scrivener Dam. It is unfortunate to see projects like Bowen Crossing postponed The Federal Government and theCanberracommunity should demand higher priority for quality urban design projects and the improvement of local amenities.
My third dot will be the apparent disconnect between budget reality, community expectation and future budget projections. Funding for urban planning and design projects will become increasingly scarce as competing priorities place pressure on the ACT Budget. I’d like to invite you to bear in mind, for example, that the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Health Directorate budget is increasing by 11 per cent per annum and in a ‘business as usual’ scenario will, according to Access Economics, consume the entire ACT Budget in the medium to long term.
Let’s start joining the dots and attempt to draw a picture. On the one hand, we are creating a strategic framework for better quality design to meet community expectations. On the other hand, we will have in the long run less funding to realise those expectations.
The picture that came out of connecting these dots is not good one. Here is my initial attempt to rescue the drawing to ensure quality spaces for all people.
a) I’d like to start by highlighting that there is no silver bullet solution to what is becoming an increasingly complex problem.
b) Education is key. In order to resolve a complex design issue we need to have a certain amount of common knowledge around the issue.
c) Potentially competing interests need to work hand in hand with a collaborative spirit to achieve designs that will benefit all members of the community.
d) Be creative, be open-minded and think outside of the square. There are no wrong questions.
Drawing a short initial exemplar illustration onBunda Streetas a shared space:
a) The advantages of making streets more people friendly are potentially far-reaching, encompassing environmental, social, economic and health benefits. Most academics and leading practitioners in various fields call for an integrated and holistic approach to issues such a climate change, non-renewable resources, food access as well as the obesity epidemic in Australia. A triple bottom line approach is necessary and needs more than just a single tool.
b) What is a shared space? www.dtf.gov.uk/publications/ltn-01-11
What is the Urban Design Protocol? www.urbandesign.gov.au
What are the benefits of making streets more walking and cycling friendly? www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/GoodforBusinessFINAL_Nov.pdf
What do most stakeholders in the ACT think about creating better places for people? www.healthyplaces.org.au/userfiles/file/News/act_activelivingreport.pdf
What has the ACT Government committed to do in relation to walking and cycling? www.transport.act.gov.au
What has the ACT Government already done? For a start it signed on 1 November 2010 the International Charter for Walking. www.walk21.com/papers/international520Charter%20for%20Walking.pdf
Of course every reader should feel encouraged to research further pending their level of interest.
c) Call out for a workshop that brings all parties together in a comfortable and neutral environment and share stories (personal or evidence based) about the importance of having equal access to good quality spaces for all members of the community in Canberra Civic.
d) Some creative ideas for Bunda Street as a high quality shared space:
–> Consider innovative pavement design using local recycled materials;
–> Use intelligent landscaping (trees, planting) to provide a green, balanced environment that can protect the space from the heat island effect.
–> Ask local stakeholders to commit to maintaining the new amenity. In addition to enjoying well maintained spaces, homeowners stand to benefit economically from quality urban design projects in their local neighbourhoods.
–> Think about human scale and imagine walking with a kid’s eye through the space. As an ideal outcome you should feel comfortable to move freely in the space and be able to communicate easily with other people.
–> Have in mind that we will have 20 + per cent elderly people by 2030 and consider the needs of disadvantaged groups.
–> The place should be considered as an open living room where people can celebrate, communicate and interact 24/7.
–> Think even of interesting signage that invites users to change their behaviour. This could be by having a big welcome sign saying, “You are entering the city’s open living room”.
e) Recently the South Australian Government announced the creation of an independent Commissioner for Integrated Design. Such a person could ideally provide the platform and framework of collaboration and facilitate the dialogue needed to achieve a satisfactory and truly democratic outcome.
3 cars stop, 24 people cross the street and 7 bicycles cruise along within 10 seconds on a Friday afternoon in Bunda Street, Canberra.
Be an urbanist and share the space!