urban thinkers campus report – shaping spaces for gen z

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

Summary for download

Full Urban Thinkers Campus Report for download

World Urban Campaign Online Report

Raising Awareness “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z” – Urban Thinker Campus

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 !

Upcoming events

Urban Talks: Implementing the New Urban Agenda through accelerated actions on active travel in Australia

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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 info@urbansynergiesgroup.org

Interview with Gregor Mews on “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z”

“Play is the way children
make sense of the world
in which they live!”
Maxim Gorky

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.

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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.

Interviewed by: Kimberley Le Lieve, FairFax Media.
Background information on Gregor H Mews

Useful information about Shaping Spaces for Gen Z

 Urban Thinker Campus

Shaping Spaces for Gen Z Forum Program

Register for the Forum

Background information on Gregor H Mews

Envisage the city we need! Designing healthy streets with children

Urban Synergies Group committed to implement the New Urban Agenda with an emphasis on healthy environments for future generations. As part of the 100.000 Dollar commitment across the Asia- Pacific region we design a program that aims to empower children and young people in city building processes. Our kick start in 2017 will be the International Forum “Shaping Spaces for GenZ” on the 8th March 2017.

In the lead up to this forum Urban Synergies Group hosted in collaboration with the Cross Culture Design Lab and the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra a street design workshop with children from the Girlang Primary School.

The students aged range was between 8- 10 years. Aim of the workshop was to empower children and elevate their view on how their city should look and feel like.

The following video provides valuable insights and captures some of their views in relation to a healthy street environment in Canberra. We would like to express gratitude and say thank you to all parties and children involved.

Should you be interested in learning more about the findings you are invited to take part in the forum and register by clicking here.

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UC Students designing with play in mind…

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Urban Synergies Group proudly supported the 2016 Special Design Unit at the University of Canberra (UC), Faculty of Arts and Design, entitled “Designing with play in mind…”

In just seven weeks the undergrad students in architecture and landscape architecture developed remarkable results that are not just evidence based but also holistic in their approach.

Their brief was to design a play scape concept that is based on the renewal efforts of the UC campus Masterplan and the associated hypothetical co- location of the aged- and childcare facility.

Both design teams pushed the boundaries of the current risk adverse society to enable better health outcomes for future generations. Through their collaborative and playful spirit the results speak for themselves.

Congratulations to the next generation of architects and designers.

The publication of the student works can be accessed here: Play Space Publication

A return to values in a society of unconscious consumption in four steps

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Sustainability, health and wellbeing are fundamentally intertwined. This article argues that this interdependence should be recognised and explicitly included into sustainability theory. Philosophical observations and system critic thinkers such as Henri Lefebvre and Martin Heidegger provide an opportunity to revisit our contemporary approach and practice regarding sustainable healthy lifestyles in an everyday context.

Lefebvre’s “everyday” concept, as Hegel cites it, refers to the real life in the here and now. Sustenance, clothing, furniture, homes, neighbourhoods and the environment as objects providing meaning to subjects in the context of every day life. He critiques the capability of people to generate consciousness as part of ordinary, trivial, banal and repetitive characteristics of life in contemporary capitalism. This highlights one of the greatest dilemma of societies achieving significant outcomes on the ground that can prevent climate change beyond the 2 Degree Celsius mark.

None of that is really new. The Brundtland Commission acknowledged in the 1987 with the Report “Our Common Future” a fertile ground. Harlem Bundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway, herself had a strong background in Public Health. Slowly 29 years later, under the umbrella of the New Urban Agenda by United Nation (UN Habitat) we have been given another chance to embrace collective actions towards a common goal that concerns all of us.

One of the most powerful tools is social media and Apps. It provides a vehicle to understand people’s individual choices as part of their daily lives. When analysing user behaviour we can gain valuable insights into peoples lives and draw conclusions on collective consequences of their daily actions. One of the best examples are Geographical Information Systems (GIS) based traffic Apps that help you to avoid traffic jams. However, it is not just a tool to communicate in a one- way stream but a tool to convey and engage in a dialog on matters that directly relate to peoples every day lives.

Georg Lukács and Martin Heidegger described it with the term “Alltäglichkeit, meaning “authentic existence of being”. This opens a window of opportunity to grasp peoples lost direction in an inauthentic existence and provide them with solutions that not just benefit their daily lives but help to prevent climate change.

What can be understood as “authentic existence”? Especially for people in western oriented nations it can be seen as an invitation to engage in the adventure of every day life.  Giving a new meaning to space and time through playful interaction with our immediate environment, that we collectively experience and share. Authentic existence can be easiest experienced through being in touch with our senses. Playful interaction with objects can transform the perception of time. People dedicate themselves to playful activities and enjoy it, we tend to share collectively this experience in a group environment. We are able give this space a new meaning. The space becomes a place. The flow theory of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi provides a fertile basis for this claim. One engages with one’s sense and makes meaning of an object in a state of concentration that ultimately impacts the environment around oneself. While engaging in the flow through play, one forgets time and enjoys it purely based on intrinsic rewards. One truly discovers meaning and the joy of being as well as living in the moment.

The evaluation of my international workshops found this to be a very effective technique to realise participants state of “authentic existence”. Active reflection under professional guidance allows participants to increase their level of consciousness and to become creative innovators as part of their professional work in the field of administration, landscape architecture, planning or urban design. However, it did even more. Many of them rediscovered the playful side in themselves helping them to realise the value of trust, space and time.

How does that relate to sustainable development as part of peoples individual actions? For example, through rediscovery of “authentic existence” as part of the state of being, spaces become places and places can increase in value with time. Instead of using the car, one can choose to walk or cycle more often, engaging with the environment in a natural speed. By rediscovering biophilic life around them their physical and mental health improves. Some of the collective benefits are self evident, reduced noise and air pollution, less accidents generate savings in the health system, decongest urban environments, reduces carbon emissions and benefits to the social capital.  All these benefits have a direct impact on our development as the human race, but the traditional approach with the triple bottom line does not stack up.

What does this new sustainable development model that recognises health and well-being look like?

The model is fundamentally based on our collective bio-history and recognises the limits of earths carrying capacity. The health- and well-being is based on the environmental dimension providing the base for our collective social existence. The collective wealth we create as part of the social dimension generates and builds the economical wealth. This wealth has to be managed with care and consciously fed back through the social dimension, and benefit ultimately the environment. By adding the arrows explicitly into the sustainability paradigm, the message of ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option (see graphic below).

USG Sus Graphic

How do we get there?

  1. It is important to recognise to revisit the existing ‘business as usual’ paradigm executed by many western oriented governments.
  2. Raise the collective consciousness, based on the playful experiences with the environment, which most governments can initiate through workshops with professionals and with the community.
  3. Include health and well-being into the sustainability paradigm, introduce and underpin them with “play space” workshops and actions from top- down and bottom- up.
  4. Utilise modern media beyond one-way communication stream or in a reactive manner. Let people be playful. Trust them and empower them to share positive experiences through their videos, infographics and stories on how to transform their “every day life” in a healthy sustainable manner. Be inspired by the New York based Amplify Project as a successful case study (http://www.amplifyingcreativecommunities.org).

What can you do after reading this article?

Reflect upon the philosophical discourse. Embrace this model, go out an engage playfully with your “every day life” environment. Take pictures, make a fun video or share your story of your “every day” adventure evolving your sustainable lifestyle and love for places. Share your experience in your social media network. Perhaps call your government and advocate for change. Help them to respond to the New Urban Agenda and rediscover a new consciousness in our everyday lives that breaks the circle of unconscious consumption in an interdependent world.

This article is cc by Gregor H. Mews, Urban Synergies Group.

Play together- being human

True freedom in this world begins with the opportunity to play. Play is both an essential and basic element of any child’s development. It is important to ensure that children enjoy life and have the chance to grow-up as physically and mentally healthy individuals because they need to be able to subsequently participate appropriately in their own culture and society as well-balanced adults. And yet, all too many children are not given the opportunity to play in the fashion they would themselves prefer. There is insufficient awareness with regards to value of giving children the freedom to undertake autonomous play. Many adults see ‘play’ as merely a trivial aspect in the lives of their children or even as an unnecessary distraction from more ‘important’ activities. Parents consider play to be something that can be safely ignored – unlike the structured educational processes that their children are subjected to in school. However, studies have shown that31-logo-redrawn play actually improves the learning performance of children over the long term and also enhances their social skills so that they tend to be more successful in their later professional careers. The International Play Association (IPA) subscribe to this view and believe that every child has the fundamental and universal right to play. It is their view that children should in future be allowed to determine freely how they want to play. The 2014 IPA Conference provided the ideal platform for participants to exchange ideas on innovative approaches to dealing with this aspect, to learn from each other and develop new strategies.

Political background

It was 25 years ago that the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 31 of the Convention specifically outlines children’s rights to relax, play and be involved in cultural activities and this was the focus of the discussions at the IPA Conference. The basis was the summary of General Comment No. 17 on Article 31 published by the IPA in September 2013. The delegates saw this as a welcome opportunity to emphasize the rights of children to rest, leisure, play, participate in recreational activities and in the cultural and artistic life. The IPA places particular stress on the ‘right to play’ and first issued an official declaration on this subject in November 1977. Anyone involved in children’s play activities – be it manufacturers, designers, educators, public authorities and parents – needs to read and take to heart this declaration. “Children’s play is any behaviour, activity or process initiated, controlled and structured by children themselves; it takes place whenever and wherever opportunities arise. Caregivers may contribute to the creation of environments in which play takes place, but play itself is non-compulsory, driven by intrinsic motivation and undertaken for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end. Play involves the exercise of autonomy, physical, mental or emotional activity, and has the potential to take infinite forms, either in groups or alone. These forms will change and be adapted throughout the course of childhood. The key characteristics of play are fun, uncertainty, challenge, flexibility and non-productivity. Together, these factors contribute to the enjoyment it produces and the consequent incentive to continue to play.“ This declaration is derived from more than 20 years of international collective experience and is based on the results of studies that have demonstrated the serious and lifelong effects that a lack of opportunity and space to play can have on the physical and psychological wellbeing of children. It was apparent from the IPA Conference that there are different ways in which the value of play is perceived throughout the world. The delegates from some countries claimed that play was an essential and fundamental need while others saw it as subordinate to structured education, as a diversion from preparing children to participate in the labour market.

The science of play

Play is an autonomous activity that is full of pleasure and delight. Because there is too little conscious enjoyment in our contemporary world, this automatically results in more of the same. Therefore it is not surprising that many people now find it difficult to come to terms with our environment and surroundings. Play promotes health and well-being. It is not only fun, but also enables children to develop a long term positive outlook more easily and this is something that children are frequently denied. There are lasting negative effects not only for children, but also for communities and whole societies if there are insufficient opportunities for play and physical exercise. Children who are unable to play fail to develop important capabilities, physical, social and psychological skills and could thus be said to have a form of disability. Children who are not permitted to play become more readily aggressive and unstable; they are no longer able to integrate themselves socially. While it is true that insufficient long term studies of the effects of play deficit have been conducted, the initial results that have been reported to date are very concerning. Children confined in enclosed spaces who do not play can exhibit various negative traits such as aggression, emotional suppression, lack of social skills, physical inactivity and are at increased risk of becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes. The brains of children who are unable to play may also fail to develop normally. Persistent sensory deprivation in the form of insufficient contact with others and the lack of other sensory types of interaction can result in depression and even cerebral dysfunction in extreme cases. Play stimulates the body’s nervous system, which reacts by creating neural networks that promote brain development and flexibility. In other words, play actually helps inculcate in children a system that boosts their learning capacity. But it is not only the children that we need to consider. Adults who deny children the freedom to play often tend themselves to have unhealthy lifestyles, do not take enough exercise and suffer from obesity or cardiovascular diseases. Experts now fear that current changes and trends will produce negative repercussions with regard to future societies and the environment although this fallout may first become apparent several generations later. These predictions are based on the results of a study in which epigenetic material was investigated. The study demonstrated that if effects might skip an entire generation, an ‘echo’ is created that could become manifest in the following generation. Play is a process through which simple movements aid the growth of efficient and effective muscles and that improves the physical and psychological status. Children become more flexible, agile, coordinated and well-balanced. Play is not just enjoyable, but helps children learn to deal with primary emotions such as anger, fear, rage, shock, sadness and happiness and to translate these into more nuanced sentiments like sorrow, pleasure, affection, gratification, frustration and disappointment.

What can we do?

Free Play represents the solution to many of the problems we encounter in urban environments. All cities need enchanting refuges, places where the imagination can be set free – gateways to another world where it is possible to forget the drudgery of the daily routine. Cities are increasingly growing into an assemblage of dead, sterile, boring and undifferentiated spaces that offer no outlet for fantasy, humor and human interaction. People need distraction. Attempts to provide this to date have been only been provided by commercially-orientated organisations and the concepts have been temporary and have not been made available to all. Urban environments must furnish appealing spaces for everyone on every day. Spaces in which we can celebrate the community, historic associations, love of nature and anthropocentric chemistry. Children in Germany must be permitted more frequent and increased access to better, autonomous, free play. The creative activities of children should be encouraged to take place in interconnected spaces and not just in localised islands. The design of creative spaces may start at the level of small details but must take a holistic approach. Freedom of creativity can be a dangerous factor in play as in life because it is not always possible to predict the consequences. For this reason, a responsible attitude to the surroundings and environment must always be adopted, although, at the same time, the right of children to play must be defended, protected and sponsored. There are two simple precepts that we all need to follow if we wish to give our children and youngsters more time, freedom and space to play:

● We can and should advocate the view that play is both a universal and natural necessity that has a positive effect on children and young people. The right to play can bring people together across borders, generate tolerance and help impart cultural values.

● We can all seek to share our experience, to disseminate new ideas, inform ourselves while retaining a critical stance and provide valuable input in research, politics and our own fields of activity.

Children will play almost anywhere but to provide the ideal conditions for this, the following requirements need to be met:

● The surroundings must be full of natural and creative elements that promote autonomous play.

● There must be equipment that provides for physical challenges to enable children to develop the ability to assess risk.

● The environments should be such that children can freely express their emotions and experience sensory stimulation.

● There must be opportunities for social interaction.

● There should be a variety of different environments in both urban and rural situations that are safely interlinked and that provide an extensive proportion of free space that invites children to indulge in play.

If we really want to achieve this, we need proactive solutions such as the idependent “Werkstatt für Spiel” initiative. In the form of interactive workshops, we will be offering participants the opportunity to explore in depth the topic of “Play and human right” and the associated requirements for space for free play . With our distinguished patrons we are looking forward to an exciting and informative event from 13.- 16. June at a heritage Watermill estate in the State of Brandenburg, Germany. For more information, please ask us. Friedrich Schiller once said that “there is often deeper meaning in the play of children”. Once we have all recognised this to be the case, we can make the world a more free, healthy and compassionate place.

Get moving: cities fit for life through better research and policy advice

Get moving: cities fit for life through better research and policy advice

Just came across this excellent blog piece on Active Living. In the Australian context – University of Canberra, University of NSW and University of Melbourne are delivering similar research for better policy outcomes.

Source: http://sustainablecitiescollective.com/node/172911

Many cities around the globe are home to dangerous roads, social stigmas that bicycling is “for the poor,” and urban designs that neglect walking and bicycling. Photo by Slightly-less-random.

Cities around the globe are seeing a creeping problem of growing physical inactivity, due in part to the lack of pleasurable every-day walking and bicycling. While in some cities there are ample facilities for a refreshing commute on bicycle, a leisurely stroll to the neighborhood market or park, or the ability to walk to high-quality public transport, many of the world’s metropolises are home to dangerous roads, social stigmas that bicycling is “for the poor,” and urban designs that neglect walking and bicycling.

The Problem

Physical inactivity currently causes 3.2 million deaths worldwide every year, and a growing number of the world’s inactive population comes from low- and middle-income countries. In Brazil people have become more sedentary – physical activity is expected to decrease by 34% from now to 2030. In China, where physical activity already plunged 46% between 1991 and 2009, it is expected to decrease by an additional 51% by 2030. Behind these numbers are sinking levels of active transport, such as walking or biking. Beijing, once known as the bicycle kingdom, has seen the cycling share of total trips plunge from 62% in 1986 to 16% in 2010 while private car trips have increased their share from 5% to 34%. A study in China showed that as people purchased vehicles they became more obese over time, a trend most evident among men, with another study in Colombia showing similar results. This trend has revealed itself across Asia, Latin America and even in Africa where motorization is currently occurring at a lower rate, but where urbanization will boom in the coming decades.

But among policy and decision-makers, the issue remains largely under the radar – and justifiably so. There is little, and in some countries no existing body of research on how to effectively promote active mobility as it pertains to physical activity, let alone basic information on household travel. Many cities’ travel surveys cover only vehicular modes, leaving out walking altogether.

Nevertheless, there is a nascent body of useful research on things such as improvements in mass transport, the built environment (street density, access to parks and traffic safety), efforts to close streets on weekends for Ciclovias, mostly in Latin America, as well as studies trying to determine the context of the physical activity and transport relationship.

The Fix

With an opportunity to do more, EMBARQ has been working with the International Development Research Centre (IRDC) of Canada to identify research that could inform effective policies and actions that increase active transport in low- and middle-income countries. After a recent workshop with researchers and decision-makers in a variety of sectors from transport to health to housing and land use, three broad categories have been identified.

  • First, research is needed that shows the economic and quality of life benefits of active transport. Decision-makers need information to take action. The more we understand about how active transport connects to priorities such as economic development, climate change, traffic safety, air quality, traffic congestion or social equity, the better prepared we will be to make the needed changes to cities. One current tool to build on is the WHO Health Economic Assessment Tool for walking and cycling, mostly applicable now to the developed world.
  • Second, with many stigmas, policies processes and other issues connected to why or why not active transport succeeds, research is needed on how political and other forces play a role. Examples include comparative studies of policies (e.g. Ciclovias), reviews of cultural and political needs and opportunities.
  • Last but certainly not least, research should provide practical information on how urban design and transport projects can bolster active transport through street networks, BRT and Metro, bicycle infrastructure design, access to parks and public spaces, and bicycle sharing to name a few. Examples include a review of key design characteristics that promote walking in Bogota, or assessing urban design and the relation to active living in China.

One participant of the workshop noted that research regarding physical activity and transport is a relatively new one, which has existed for 15 years in the United States but has been absent until the past few years in the developing world.  Providing the necessary research on this issue will require mobilizing resources from a variety of fields from health, transport, housing, parks & recreation, environmental organizations, urban planning and others to come together. If done right, we could see more people walking and bicycling their way to healthier lives against the challenges of urban growth and personal motorization.

Sustainable transport infrastructure, liveability, health and prosperity – an observation

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!

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Sustainable transport infrastructure, liveability, health and prosperity – an observation