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
Since I have devoted my life to Urban Synergies – the team and I worked very hard but took sufficient time to develop a new paradigm for sustainable urban development that includes health and well-being as well as ethical behaviour as a core principle.
Critical reflection is needed! The latest measurements of IPCC report on global greenhouse gas emissions showing alarming levels and industry is working with a model that does very little or not enough to drive positive change. We know that more that 50 per cent of the world wide population lives now in urban conditions and at the same time cities are the greatest contributor and emitters of pollution threatening human health. Only when we acknowledge our collective bio history, critically reflect and collaboratively work towards a new paradigm we will be able to sustain us.
We are committed! To make a meaningful contribution and to help creating a better world we introduce Urban Synergies healthy sustainable development model.
Should you have any questions relating to our model we would love to hear from you. Feel free to visit our website www.urbansynergies.org
Next weekend the world leaders in EcoMobility will meet in Suwon, Korea and discuss ways how we can enable healthier urban systems. Places that make it easy for you to be personally mobile and be friendly to the planet! The EcoMobility world festival will showcase in district scale a conventional vehicle free urban system. I look forward to some engaging discussions with other speakers and participants.
You can learn more under www.ecomobility2013.iclei.org or www.ecomobilityfestival.org/
Photos provided by ecosia, greenpeace and GHM.
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.
People need to engineer exercise into their daily routines, TONY STUBBS writes
We know that physical inactivity – apart from contributing to the nation’s obesity crisis – is a major health problem in its own right. Our current lifestyles are costly and can be deadly. Each year, physical inactivity costs the economy an estimated $13.8 billion, causes 16,000 premature deaths and carries a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer.
Evidence of the emphatic link between cardiovascular disease and physical inactivity dates back to the 1940s and, today, physical inactivity is the fourth leading contributor to the overall burden of disease nationally.
In the ACT, more than two-thirds of all adults do not get enough exercise to achieve health benefits. Results of the Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey showed three out of four year 6 students in Canberra do not achieve their recommended activity requirement each day.
n addition, the ACT chief health officer’s report in 2010 showed four in five children aged between 12 and 17 did not meet the national activity guidelines.
More than ever, investment and action is needed to encourage people to use active modes of transport – walking, cycling and public transport – to increase exercise and improve health outcomes for future generations. It is well recognised that investment in activity is the best buy in public health today.
The Heart Foundation has long advocated building physical activity into our daily lives. Being active – such as cycling or brisk walking – for just 30 minutes a day can halve your risk of cardiovascular disease.
We know people who use public transport have a good chance of getting their recommended level of physical activity during their travel.
Analysis of household travel data from the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity found people who use public transport on a particular day spent an average 41 minutes walking and/or cycling as part of their travel – five times more physical activity than those who only use private transport.
But how can we further change our nation’s capital from being a car-dependent city? How do we get more people to walk or ride a bike to school, work or other destinations? On a broader scale, how do we tackle the challenges of congestion, climate change, the liveability of our cities and public health?
The ACT government has made big strides in the right direction in the active transport agenda undertaking a broad range of initiatives to encourage walking and cycling as alternative modes of transport. It has injected serious dollars in local infrastructure to promote active transport including improved lighting and security around public transport hubs; better pedestrian access and bicycle storage facilities; and improved corridor planning on Northbourne and Constitution avenues.
The government is now a signatory of the International Charter for Walking, which has a strong commitment to increased inclusive mobility and creating a healthy culture for walking.
Most recently, the Transport for Canberra plan is to be commended for the inclusion of a high-level physical activity taskforce, a focus on creating a sustainable, compact Canberra and investment in physical activity projects with everything from pools to footpaths, bike tracks and sports grounds.
In addition, the government has helped the Heart Foundation’s active living project, which encourages initiatives for a built environment to promote the uptake of an active lifestyle. This project – combining expertise from planning, health, transport, landscape architecture, academic and urban design sectors – has been internationally recognised for its work to overcome barriers and identify opportunities to support a more active Canberra community.
We still have a challenging task ahead of us. There remains a desperate need to tackle our obesogenic environments head on – and that means ongoing investment in programs and infrastructure that will make the healthier transport choices – walking, cycling and public transport – the easier choices.
And we know what works. The evidence base is overwhelming and solid; comprising Australian and international programs and initiatives where communities, towns and cities have got people out of cars and into more active modes of transport, often in vast numbers.
We must work collaboratively with a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach to tackle our physical inactivity and obesity epidemic. The Heart Foundation’s active living forum, to be held on May 8, will bring together professionals from the government, business and community disciplines to do just this. The focus of the forum will be to develop actions to design Canberra’s built environment to enable the ACT community to lead healthier, more active lifestyles.
We are the nation’s leader when it comes to the use of active transport, but only about 7.5 per cent of the Canberra population walk or cycle to work. We need to engineer physical activity into our daily routines to reverse these statistics. Our vision for the ACT to boost participation in walking, cycling and public transport involve:
■ A consistent implementation of the recommendations in the Transport for Canberra strategy and the planning strategy.
■ Sustained and targeted funding for infrastructure, such as continuation of the one-off $3 million for infrastructure announced last year.
■ Ongoing funding for programs and policies and other education and behaviour change initiatives.
The cost of driving change is high, but the human and economic costs of obesity and chronic disease are significantly higher. Britain’s then chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, made this resounding point back in 2010: ”I recommend that the threat of climate change should provide sufficient impetus for action to substantially increase walking and cycling as common forms of transport.”
Tony Stubbs is the chief executive of the Heart Foundation.
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!
If we want to heal the Canberra pattern language we need to have a healthy balance between providing sufficient area for development within the existing footprint (commercial viability), efficient and convenient circulation and high quality social spaces.
The wound is deep!
The recent Hawke review of the ACT public service indicated that Canberra is 10 times less dense than Melbourne and Sydney, is one of the lowest density cities worldwide and less than one quarter of the ACT is suitable for development. The potential for significant urban redevelopment is apparent and key to enable efficient and convenient circulation systems.
What do I mean with that? Efficient movement allows all people to move from A to B in a fast way. However, convenient also includes what happens between A and B. So far Canberra has been successful in “perceived efficiency” to move people from A to B via cars. The implication on equal access and holistic safety to this form of movement by the population with a youth and aged perspective is concerning. Bus use is still far beyond being convenient for all members of the community and as the Ottawa example shows requires long- term support.
Car use just creates convenience for a small number of people per vehicle and degrades the space between A and B to a “desert quality” or when have you seen last time a good crowed of people having quality time on a medium stripe.
In other words people had for a very long time a very exclusive way of moving in space, which resulted in a 30 per cent increase in road infrastructure that needs to be maintained, not even to mention impacts on human health and their environment through air pollution, heat island affects, amount of sealed surfaces etc.
In search for a right medicine!
In the medium term future cars won’t disappear, but we need to tame the cars and change the pattern language in the city if we are serious live in a sustainable and healthy Canberra.
The street pattern and urban structure is important to determine the pattern of movement, setting the parameter for subsequent development and in contributing to an urban character.
Introducing a stronger movement hierarchy, plan under the banner of “city of short distances”, which allows people meet most of they needs in short walking/ cycling or public transport distances and maximise the opportunities of social spaces in between.
The Department for Transport in the UK adopted in 2007 a new movement hierarchy for their “Manual for streets”:
- Bike users;
- Public transport;
- Special service vehicle, car share and taxis;
- Private cars.
The shape and size of an urban block is important in conjunction with basic typologies/ codes/ rules about physical parameters. Innovative and creative precinct plans can address these issues and are able to address social spaces that benefit all members of a community.
Indicator for getting healthy!
The greatest indicator of a disappearing wound is when you start seeing a wide range of people using urban spaces up to 24/7- simply more people living, ageing and socialising locally in very safe, pleasant and child friendly environment.
Be part of the healing process!
The ACT Government has released two key strategies for public comments. The ACT Planning strategy will set the direction around Canberras future pattern language and other urban design challenges. The Transport for Canberra strategy aim is to tame the car and providing a real opportunity to create equity in transport. The strategies can be found under http://www.timetotalk.act.gov.au/time-to-talk/. Make a difference – be an urbanist!