Cutting car use closes health and wealth gaps

A dark car viewed front on showing grille and headlightsThe Conversation has published another article in its series Healthy Liveable Cities. We know that active travel has positive health benefits. But now entering the debate is the cost of car ownership – costs which are often not calculated by car owners. The article describes four scenarios on housing and car ownership and the weekly costs to the households. The costs range from over $300 a week to $24 a week using Melbourne as the benchmark. Costs of public transport vary considerably from state to state and from city to regional areas, but the point is made. The article is based on research from University of New South Wales and is well worth reading to the end.

Editor’s note: Poverty can be exclusionary when people are constrained from participating in the basic activities of life.

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Who says it is liveable?

Urban landscape with shade trees and lots of casual seating with people sitting.Cameron Jewell writes in Fifth Estate that the notion of liveability should be questioned when it comes to Australian cities. This is in spite of our cities regularly ranking highly on this measure. Jewell says there is little evidence cities are achieving their policy targets for walkability, public transport or public open space. He is commenting on a report of five years of research, Creating Liveable Cities in Australia. At the end of the article are the seven key recommendations. Evidence based policies tops the list. Accessibility gets a brief mention in terms of employment and amenities. The questioning should include accessibility and universal design. If one in five of us is living with disability, and double that at least for including inconvenienced family members, we are not making places and spaces liveable for everyone. And we are not meeting our targets under the National Disability Strategy either.   

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The future of cars and land use planning

A woman with blonde hair sits reading a magazine resting on the steering wheel of the car she is (not) driving. The road and other cars are visible through the windscreen as the photo was taken from the back seat.Driverless vehicles could bring out the best – or worst – in our cities by transforming land use according to an article in Fifth Estate.  Technology has entered just about every aspect of our lives. Urban design and planning included. Things to think about are: freeing up road space for other uses, turning parking lots into social uses, redesigning building and street interfaces, transforming fuel stations into something else, and converting domestic garage spaces in suburbia. But there could also be an increase in urban sprawl and changing property values and planning controls. This is disruption for planners. The article is based on research by an interdisciplinary group and has many links to further reading. The article includes a video about walkability and was originally published in The Conversation.  

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Let’s go shopping!

Picture of a shopping mall with a plain grey floor and shops on each side. Thre is a woodend bench with armrests and backrest. In the distance you can see more shops.Shopping for groceries is a chore for most people. But for people with reduced cognitive abilities shopping can be a major challenge. Researchers in Sweden carried out a study of 29 people with cognitive challenges to find out their coping strategies. They found very different approaches to coping, but in every case the coping strategy was underpinned by a “personal and strong wish to maintain individuality and independence”. In the discussion section there are some good points for retailers to consider including: clear paths that connect the entrance and exits with check out counters, clear signage, places to sit and rest (and reduce anxiety) and creating a sense of feeling safe in the environment. The title of the paper is, Shopping with Acquired Brain Injuries, Coping Strategies and Maslowian Principles, by Andersson, Skehan, Ryden and Lagerkrans, from the Swedish Agency for Participation. As with most personal case study research this is an easy read.  

Editor’s note: The recommendations are also good for people without reduced cognition. For example, reducing “visual noise” and clutter helps everyone to find what they are looking for, and a clear path of travel is good for people using mobility devices. Again, thoughtful design is universal design.

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Dementia and urban design

An older man and woman sit on a wooden slatted park bench. The man is holding a blue umbrella to shade from the sun. There is another empty bench next to them. They are sitting alongside the path and there are trees behind them.The incidence of dementia is predicted to increase as the global population ages. Many people with dementia are able to live independently for several years before they need constant care and support. Studies are showing that the design of the built environment is influential in supporting people with dementia to maintain their sense of well-being and independence. In Improving the lives of people with dementia through urban design, Barbara Pani presents four brief case studies: a gated community, a dementia-friendly city, intergenerational housing, and health services at a neighbourhood level in a social housing estate. The article provides technical information and in the conclusion raises several points. Retrofitting existing buildings could be better than massive redevelopment; consideration of people with dementia could also be good for the wellbeing of people with mental health issues, and the importance of developing social spaces at the neighbourhood level. 

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Urban design and wellbeing of older adults

The photo shows the facade of an old red brick building with an assortment of graffiti and tags. There is a doorway and in front is a rubbish binKeeping mobile and active whether walking, riding or using a mobility device is essential for staying connected and maintaining good mental health. According to the authors of “Neighbourhood Amenities and Depressive Symptoms in Urban-Dwelling Older Adults“, past research suggests that the effect of poorly designed and maintained environments can have a negative effect on the mental wellbeing of older adults. If getting out and about is restricted because the environment is not accessible, or perceived as unsafe or unpleasant, this can lead to depressive symptoms. An interesting report from Gillepsie, LeVasseur, and Michael, who conclude that their findings “support public policy to promote neighbourhoods with diverse amenities as a means to support mental health in older adults”.

One of the main findings was, “the lack of diverse amenities within the neighbourhood was associated with depression among those older adults with greater mobility, i.e. the capacity to travel into the neighbourhood. Consistent with other findings in our study, amenity diversity was more relevant to older adults that engaged in regular walking behaviour, or had high mobility status (Nagel et al., 2008). Among those older adults with low mobility, we observed no difference in depression by amenity diversity. Older adults with restricted mobility may be less aware of the resources available (or not available) in their neighbourhood.”

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Beyond the city

A tree-lined walkway with a wide grey path with a gravel edging. there is grass on either side.Because so many of us live in major cities, it is easy to forget regional and rural communities and their need to plan and create communities that are healthy and accessible for everyone. Town centres have footpaths, but these often disappear in the residential areas, or are patchy at best. Or they are shared cycling and pedestrian walkways – a design strategy that is not suited to everyone, particularly older people. Distances to services and shops mean the car is essential. Susan Thompson discusses built environment issues in rural areas in her article, Beyond the city – healthy built environments in regional and rural localities. She says, “Healthy planning is about supporting the wellbeing of all people, no matter where they live, their age, physical and mental abilities, and irrespective of their socio-economic status” The article also refers to case studies that provide some good ideas for creating communities where people can be active and feel that they belong.

The article comes from the UNSW City Futures blog page.

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