Four Tips To Achieve Healthier Cities
Silpa Wairatpanij (left) and Jesús Carlos Soto
Silpa Wairatpanij (left) and Jesús Carlos Soto

By 2050, around 70% of the global population is projected to reside in urban areas. While cities provide numerous advantages, they can also pose health risks to people and the environment.

“Thoughtful planning and creation of inclusive urban spaces can have a significant impact on reducing the number of deaths attributed to poor air quality, road traffic accidents, and, of course, chronic diseases,” says Dr Garry Aslanyan, host of the Global Health Matters podcast. “It also has the added benefit of enhancing social connections in city environments that can often feel isolating and lonely.”

But how can we transform our cities to be healthier places?

In the latest Global Health Matters podcast episode, Aslanyan is joined by Silpa Wairatpanij, Committee Member of the Thailand Walking and Cycling Institute Foundation in Bangkok, and Jesús Carlos Soto, Head of Guadalajara’s Mobility and Transportation Department. They discuss strategies for cities to enhance themselves, including expanding pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and decreasing road accidents, pollution, and associated health concerns.

1 – Gather Data

“The most important thing is scientific evidence,” says Wairatpanij. “Showing the emotional effect of changing the street, changing the city’s environment, is not enough. It doesn’t convince people to follow along.”

Wairatpanij suggests gathering lots of information, including public data. It’s crucial to hold onto this data, especially after making positive changes in the city. This way, you can show how these changes have helped, encouraging the government and local authorities to implement similar improvements in the future.

2 – Involve Civil Society

Soto says that the involvement of civil society is essential to make change.

“We have a very active and organised civil society promoting mobility as a human right here in Guadalajara and in Mexico, in the whole country, and this involvement wants to make the rights of cyclists and pedestrians visible, the right to the city, the defence of the environment, have provoked that in Mexico and Guadalajara, we have taken important steps in this regard,” he tells Aslanyan.

3 – Believe Traffic Fatalities Can be Prevented

Soto also says it is essential to know that the goal of reaching zero deaths and zero serious injuries from road accidents is possible. A fundamental first step is to know and understand the causes of these road traffic fatalities.

4 – Know Political Costs are OK

Finally, “there will always be political costs of doing the right thing,” Soto says. “Do not be afraid of the political costs if you do things correctly, very well planned with scientific evidence-based decisions and with the support of civil society organisations.”

In Thailand, where diseases rank as the leading four causes of death and road accidents follow closely as the fifth, Wairatpanij and his organisation have been promoting walking and cycling in the city instead just for sport and exercise. Today, he is working with the Partnership for Healthy Cities (PHC) to redesign the city streets to have more space for side walks and less space for cars through lane reductions, narrowing lanes and extending side walks at the crossing junctions, amongst other changes.

“It’s been an ongoing process … and we hope that by changing the environments of the cities to accommodate walking and cycling … it reduces sedentary activities, people have more activities, and that would reduce the cause of non-communicable diseases,” Wairatpanij says.

In Guadalajara, where more than 650 premature deaths linked to poor air quality happen each year, and road traffic is the second cause of death, Soto has been working to increase bicycle and pedestrian strips considerably.

“We know that every kilometre that is pedalled avoids emissions that affect health and generate cardiovascular improvement for the people using bicycles,” Soto says.

Listen to previous episodes of Global Health Matters on Health Policy Watch.

Image Credits: Global Health Matters Podcast.

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