Taking liveability goals global



TYPE Prevention Centre News

The Prevention Centre proudly joined the global launch of The Lancet Global Health series, perfectly timed with the opening day of the Public Health Association of Australia’s annual prevention conference.

This work began as a ‘proof of concept’ and it is remarkable to see what has now been achieved and to note how the longevity of the project has contributed to building capacity in early and mid-career researchers including Carl Higgs, Jonathan Arundel and Melanie Lowe. These researchers played a leadership role in the global study, upscaling methods they developed through their work on Prevention Centre projects. This global project demonstrates the co-benefits of working with multiple partners and practitioners and especially the significance of shared intellectual property. It is a shining example of how open science can progress public health research.

The global launch of The Lancet Global Health series on urban design, transport, and health followed on from the 2016 Lancet series which drew attention to the importance of integrated upstream city planning policies as a pathway to creating healthy and sustainable cities, and proposed a set of city planning indicators that could be used to benchmark and monitor progress.

In this follow-up series, published in The Lancet Global Health, the authors show how the indicators can guide decisions about what must change to create healthy and sustainable cities and how research can be used to guide urban policy to achieve urban and population health. They provide tools that other cities can use to replicate the indicators and explore “where to next” to create healthy and sustainable cities, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Professor Giles-Corti introduced the series in this video.

While the project was a positive success, the findings for Australia may not be received so positively. The study found Australian cities may be less likely to promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles than cities in some lower-income countries. The Lancet Global Health study assessed the lived experience against urban design, transport and health policies in 25 cities globally. The Australian cities assessed – Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney – failed to meet health and sustainability thresholds, let down by poor access to public transport and car-centric designs.

“Our car-centric cities are falling short globally, in terms of being healthy and sustainable for all,” Professor Giles-Corti said.

“Despite positive rhetoric about health, sustainability and liveability, many cities we studied – including in Australia – did not have adequate policies to promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti.

“Urban design standards often fell short of what’s needed to create healthy neighbourhoods, such as safe walking routes and green spaces.”

The study is among the first to assess health-supportive city planning policies, urban design and transport using standardised methods. The research used indicators such as proximity to public transport and food, walkability, density and policies to understand the health and sustainability of cities across the globe. Most Australians were found to live in areas that did not meet density and walkability thresholds, in line with World Health Organization targets to encourage physical activity. Only 37–44% of the population in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne lived in a neighbourhood with above-average walkability and Australian cities also performed poorly when assessed for access to frequent public transport. All 11 European cities included in the study outperformed Australia on almost all indicators.

Professor Giles-Corti said urgent policy reform was needed to help rebuild healthier and more sustainable cities. “Without good urban policies, we can’t deliver healthy and sustainable cities,” she said. “Cities should boast neighbourhoods where people can live locally, walk and cycle and have access to amenities they need for daily living.”

Access the reports and scorecards.

This story has been adapted from the original published by RMIT University.