Creating healthy and sustainable cities

16 May, 2022
Creating healthy and sustainable cities

A ground-breaking study has benchmarked urban planning policies that promote health and sustainability in cities around the globe.

New research – published by The Lancet Global Health in a series on Urban Design, Transport, and Healthaims to inform policy directions and planning for more healthy, sustainable cities worldwide.

Erica Hinckson, Professor of Physical Activity and the Environment at AUT and contributing author of the study, says the availability and quality of urban planning and transport policies supporting health and sustainability in Auckland is ‘below average’ compared to other cities in the international study.

“Our research shows that Tāmaki Makaurau does not appear to have urban planning and transport policies incorporating health-focused actions and air pollution management, or housing density and street connectivity standards,” says Hinckson.

The Global Healthy and Sustainable City (GHSC) Indicators Study, a multidisciplinary collaboration of researchers from more than 30 universities, used standardised methods to assess policy settings, urban design and transport in 25 cities across 19 countries – Maiduguri, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Baltimore, Phoenix, Seattle, Hong Kong, Chennai, Bangkok, Hanoi, Graz, Ghent, Bern, Olomouc, Cologne, Odense, Barcelona, Valencia, Vic, Belfast, Lisbon, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Auckland.

Researchers used spatial indicators, such as population density, street connectivity and proximity to public transport and food, to assess the health-supporting nature and sustainability of each city, and pinpoint inequities in access. Together they were able to identify thresholds for urban design and transport that would increase active transport and promote health.

Although most cities had aspirations to be healthy and sustainable, many of them lacked the measurable targets to achieve these aspirations.

This new research is supported by reports and scorecards for 25 cities.

Earlier today, Auckland University of Technology (AUT) launched the first Healthy and Sustainable City Indicators Report for Tāmaki Makaurau.

Relative to the other 24 cities in the study, the majority of neighbourhoods in Auckland have low walkability. Only one in five neighbourhoods meet density and street connectivity thresholds to achieve World Health Organisation targets to increase physical activity.

The majority of Auckland residents have some public open space within 500 metres, although this drops to two-thirds having access to larger public open spaces.

Compared to other cities, the percentage of the population with access to a food market or public transport within 500 metres is slightly below average. Only 56 percent of Auckland residents have access to public transport stops with regular services.

Researchers also developed tools that can be used by other cities to benchmark and monitor their progress towards being healthy and sustainable.

“These new indicators can provide policy direction for cities looking to reimagine themselves after the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Hinckson.

“Healthy and sustainable cities have never been more important or urgent. COVID-19 has highlighted the vulnerability of our cities, and climate change risk is increasingly self-evident. The need for policy reform is critical and this research shows what is needed.”

The authors of the study are now calling for a 1000 Cities Challenge to activate a global citizen science programme, where members of the general public and scientists can collaborate on the collection and analysis of data. This could be used by global agencies to assess progress in achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals.

About the launch event:

Auckland report and scorecard

AUT launched the inaugural Healthy and Sustainable City Indicators Report and scorecard for Auckland (Tāmaki Makaurau) in a livestream event at 3.30pm on Friday 13 May 2022.

Erica Hinckson and Lisa Mackay at the AUT School of Sport and Recreation, presented the key findings and Auckland’s scorecard for public open space, walkability, transport, and access to amenities.

An expert panel – featuring Councillor Pippa Coom (Auckland Council), Tony Kake NZMD (Independent Māori Statutory Board), Abbie Reynolds (Auckland Transport), George Weeks (Kāinga Ora), and Professor Damon Salesa (AUT) – discussed the implications of this new research and how it can contribute to creating a healthy and sustainable future for Tāmaki Makaurau.

About The Lancet Global Health:

Urban Design, Transport, and Health

A three-part series in The Lancet Global Health aims to create healthier, more sustainable cities. Urban Design, Transport, and Health looks at how integrated multisector city planning can be used as a force for health and wellbeing within the UN Sustainable Development Goals framework.

In 2016, the first series proposed a set of city planning indicators that could be used to benchmark and monitor cities. The second series, published this week, demonstrates how those indicators can be used to measure urban design and transport policies in cities around the globe.

This is a step towards the development of a global system of policy and spatial indicators for healthy and sustainable cities.

General statistics:

  • By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach 9.7 billion, with almost 70 percent of people living in cities.
  • Cities are the epicentres for economic growth, provide access to employment and resources, and bring people together.
  • When poorly planned, cities promote inactive, unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyles, increase inequalities in access to resources and expose residents to environmental stressors such as air pollution.
  • Cities utilise 78 percent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.
  • Urban design and transport, and related policies that promote health may provide part of the solution.