There is a growing mood for healthier and sustainable urban design.
A sustainable city is a healthy city. The links between environmental sustainability and public health are no longer confined to well-known issues such as air quality and traffic congestion but are inextricably entwined with the way we design our cities. There are surprisingly strong synergies between creative, intelligent urban planning and broader societal health benefits.
There are many elements to creating a healthy city. Increasing urban forest cover to reduce the heat island effect, constructing healthy buildings that use less energy and, perhaps the most fundamental factor, redesigning our city away from the model of ‘automobile dependent’ suburbs to centres that offer a range of mobility choices.
For Perth, this is now a critical issue. Traffic congestion is getting worse, commute times are getting longer. Perth is now the second most congested city in Australia and the Committee for Perth estimates there is a 31-minute delay for every one hour spent travelling during peak periods. To make matters worse, the 2015 Australian Infrastructure Audit predicted that the greater Perth region will have the nation’s most congested roads by 2031.
Traffic congestion is not just hitting the hip-pockets of West Australians, it’s also impacting on our health. International evidence suggests that increased travel times are linked with long-term, serious health and social problems including premature death, obesity, heart disease, increased blood pressure, cancer, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, mental health issues, sleep apnoea and higher divorce rates.
Extended travel times and flow-on health issues are adversely affecting a growing number of people in Perth. More than 70% of all new housing is located on the urban fringe, well away from public transport and mixed-use, walk-friendly centres. Our largest growing suburbs are more than 33km away from the CBD.
Linked with this is the unenviable fact that Perth has one of the highest per capita CO2 emissions on the planet. While Australia’s per capita emissions are nearly twice the OECD average and more than four times the world average with around 25 tonnes per person, WA is even higher. So a sprawling, car-focused city design that’s bad for our health is even worse for the environment.
The good news is there’s a mood for change. Research carried out by the Committee for Perth in late-2015 revealed that 89% of residents want an efficient public transport system for Perth, while only 17% of the community believe that this requirement is currently being met.
So the challenge is to design the future of Perth as an active transit city in which walking, riding and catching public transport are the fastest growing forms of moving people around the metropolitan area. To achieve this, Perth will need to be more dense and compact with development focused on mixed-use centres where people can live, work and enjoy their leisure time within one space.
This is a wonderful opportunity to create a more liveable Perth. A modern city that is substantially healthier for its residents and the planet.