Automobiles Are Making Cities Unhealthy Places to Live
Automobiles — and the planning and infrastructure to support them — are making our cities sick, according to an international group of researchers. The team is publishing a three-part series in the British medical journal The Lancet. The first article appeared on September 23rd 2016 when the authors launched the series during an event at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Over two years, the team reviewed 20 years of literature as well as their own research on the health impacts of city planning through transportation mode choice in cities.
A release from the University of Washington reports that UW professors Anne Vernez Moudon and Andrew Dannenberg are co-authors of the first of this series that explores these connections and suggests several planning alternatives for better health.
Moudon is a professor emerita of urban design and planning and architecture in the UW College of Built Environments. Dannenberg is an affiliate professor of environmental and occupational health in the School of Public Health and in urban design and planning.
The release quotes Moudon as saying, “Most of the negative consequences of city planning policies on health are related to the high priority given to motor vehicles in land-use and transportation planning, City planning policies supporting urban individual car travel directly and indirectly influence such risk exposures as traffic, air pollution, noise, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, personal safety and social isolation.”
Moudon and fellow authors write “Individualized motor travel in cities is the root cause of increases in exposures to sedentarism, environmental pollution, social isolation and unhealthy diets, which lead to various types of injury and disease outcomes.”
The lead paper suggests eight major interventions that city and transportation planning can employ to make cities more “compact” and promote health.
At the local urban design level, these ideas include walkable and bikable environments, shorter distances to common daily destinations, mixing housing with commercial developments and services and making common destinations more readily available to citizens. Parking demand would be managed by reducing its availability and increasing its cost.
“Together, these interventions will create healthier and more sustainable, compact cities,” the authors write, “that reduce the environmental, social and behavioral risk factors that affect lifestyle choices, levels of environmental pollution, noise and crime.”
The second paper focuses on the links between land use, transport and health benefits in compact cities. The third paper looks at using science to guide city planning policy and practice for healthy and sustainable cities.
Overall, the series quantifies the health gains that could be achieved if cities incentivize a shift from private car use to cycling and walking, and promote a city model in which employment and amenities — including public transportation — are within walking distance.
Series author Giles-Corti placed the multinational research into historic and global perspective, noting that with world population heading to 50 billion by 2050 — and three-quarters of people to be living in cities — city planning must be part of a comprehensive solution to adverse health outcomes.
“City planning was key to cutting infectious disease outbreaks in the 19th century through improved sanitation, housing and separating residential and industrial areas,” Giles-Corti said. “Today, there is a real opportunity for city planning to reduce non-communicable diseases and road trauma and to promote health and wellbeing more broadly.”