Fighting air pollution can be tough, for those in master planning and city design, we know the war can be won
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been called upon by health experts and academics to do more to tackle the capitals air pollution problem – a topic that has been gaining attention in the UK for some time. Fighting an invisible enemy may seem tough but, for those in master planning and city design, we know the war can be won.
The World Health Organisation terms a ”healthy city” as: “One that continually creates and improves it physical and social environmental, and expands the community resources that enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life…”
As outlined in the report, if we are to tackle air pollution then reducing the population’s reliance on car use, and encouraging walking, cycling and the uptake of public transport, is key. To achieve this we need to consider how our public spaces and transport networks can work harder to contribute positively to our daily lives; urban planning is at the core of this. Rather than enforcing the change needed to achieve a healthy city, you can arguably make the biggest impact by embracing management by design.
Transport clearly plays a huge part. Every person in London, for example, is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines. Therefore the need to reduce vehicle numbers in the city has never been so vital. One way of doing so, and which has been implemented within the new 40,000 inhabitant district of Nordhavn, Copenhagen, is by designing a “five minute city”. In Nordhavn it is possible to reach shops, institutions, work places, cultural facilities and public transport within five minutes’ walk from any point in the district.
If we are to tackle air pollution then reducing the population’s reliance on car use, and encouraging walking, cycling and the uptake of public transport is key
The street network has been designed to make it purposely more arduous to move around the district by car whilst promoting and enabling easy and direct movement of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport networks. The result of this is a community where people’s first choice is not to use a car but to opt for a more sustainable and healthy transport mode.
Another means of building healthy cities that encourage mental and physical wellbeing actually helps address another growing urban problem – flooding. Blue-Green Infrastructure (BGI) connects urban hydrological functions (blue) with vegetation systems (green) to act as a sink for excess water and surface run-off, while also generating social and environmental value for the local area.
Never underestimate the power of green space, which provides those in urban environments with space that is both enjoyable but also healthier. It also creates an environment for people to interact in, building the sense of local community that is so vital in encouraging people to use local amenities and facilities rather than jumping in the car.
Our goal must be to develop healthy and creatively interactive relationships between urban designs and the natural world
What Khan needs to be considering is how our design of public space can improve the local environment, and subsequently health and happiness, by making it easy and desirable to make sustainable lifestyle choices. Potential ways of achieving this include building community areas that improve ‘livablity’, enabling sustainable transport choices and welcoming green-blue infrastructure into our city centres.
Our goal must be to develop healthy and creatively interactive relationships between urban designs and the natural world, and encourage people to make healthy life choices – whether this is taking time to sit in a sunbathed spot and breathe in some fresh air, or cycling to the next meeting instead of hopping in a taxi. The by-product of this will not only be improved health, but more vibrant and economically successful urban areas in which all people can flourish.