Healthy, Liveable, and Sustainable Communities Can Make a Big Difference in Our Lives
Imagine a community —neighborhood, village, town or city— that provides residents with plenty of opportunities to enjoy a high quality of life. A world-class community that strives to preserve or improve its economy, the quality of its environment, and the health and well being of its residents. A First-class community that enables residents to live in a variety of housing options, and that it makes it possible —and attractive— for them to walk, bike or take public transportation to go to the places they most frequently need to go every day, such as work, schools, grocery stores, shopping malls, parks and other public spaces, entertainment and recreational areas, and fitness and health facilities.
Although building this type of community may be seen by many as a grand challenge, it is actually a real possibility, and it can be highly rewarding for all involved —governments, the community, and the residents.
There are many factors that can influence our health, our life expectancy, our wellbeing and our quality of life. These include our genes and roots, our gender, education and wealth, our diet and lifestyle, our living arrangements, our state of mind and attitude towards life, our safety and security, the geography and environment in which we live, and the prospect for us to succeed in life.
This article looks into a number of these factors, explores their impacts on people's health, life expectancy, wellbeing and quality of life, and identifies a range of considerations for community planning, with emphasis on healthy living, liveability and sustainability.
Currently, people around the world are living longer than ever before
Statistics clearly show that people around the world are currently living longer than ever before. For instance, nearly 115 years ago, in year 1900, the global life expectancy at birth was just 31 years —at that time, even in the richest countries, the global life expectancy at birth was below 50. But thereafter, the global life expectancy at birth rose progressively to nearly 48 years by year 1950, to 64 years by 1990, to 66 years by 2000, and to 70 years by 2012. That means, that the global life expectancy at birth increased, on average, nearly 4.4 months, each year, between 1900 and 1990; nearly 2.4 months per year between 1990 and 2000; and exactly 4 months per year between 2000 and 2012. In other words, over the 112 years, between 1900 and 2012, the global life expectancy at birth increased, on average, by nearly 4.2 months yearly. It also means that the global life expectancy at birth increased by a total of 39 years between 1900 and 2012 —33 years increase, from 31 in 1900 to 64 in 1990, plus another 6 years, from 64 in 1990 to 70 in 2012— (Exhibit 1).
Three years ago, in year 2012, the life expectancy (LE) at birth, for both men and women combined, was 80 years or more in 33 countries around the world. Japan led the world with 84 years, followed respectively by Andorra, Australia, Italy, San Marino, Singapore and Switzerland (with 83 years), Canada, Cyprus, France, Iceland, Israel, Luxemburg, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and Sweden (with 82 years), Austria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Republic of Korea and United Kingdom (with 81 years), and Belgium, Chile, Denmark, Lebanon and Slovenia (with 80 years). To see more, click here on: Interactive graphand then click again on "View interactive graph."
And in the future, people around the world will most likely live "even longer"
Looking ahead, and assuming that trends over the past 112 years will continue into the future, it may not be unreasonable to think that by year 2030, in some countries like Japan, Australia and Switzerland, the life expectancy at birth, both for men and women combined, might go up near the 90s. And new generations will probably live even longer. In fact, a recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet forecasts that "If the pace of increase in life expectancy in developed countries over the past two centuries continues through the 21st century, most babies born since 2000 in France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the USA, Canada, Japan, and other countries with long life expectancies will celebrate their 100th birthdays." 
In addition to living longer, people around the world are also living healthier
In addition to living longer lives, people around the world are also living healthier lives. For example, in just the 12 years, between 2000 and 2012, the global healthy life expectancy (HALE) at birth increased 4 full years —from 58 years in year 2000, to 62 years in year 2012 (Exhibit 1).2 HALE at birth is the average number of years that a person can expect to live in "full health" by taking into account years lived in less than full health due to disease and/or injury, according to WHO —the World Health Organization
However, people around the world are still losing too many years of healthy life
In spite of all the significant improvements in life expectancy and HALE at birth, people around the world are still losing too many years of healthy life resulting from poor health. In 2012, for example, the global healthy life expectancy at birth was only 62 years, as compared to the total global life expectancy at birth of 70 years in the same year. That means that, on average, and at that time, people around the world were facing 8 years of poor health as they approached the end of their lives (Exhibit 1).
Several factors are causing people to lose too many years of healthy life
It is well documented in the literature that poor health can result from a number of factors —including income and poverty, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor living environments— which, in turn, can lead to stress, overweight and obesity, disabilities, increased risks of chronic diseases, and increased risks of leading causes of premature death, such as cerebrovascular strokes, lung cancers and coronary heart disease.
Income has a big impact on people's life expectancy
In 2012, the total life expectancy (LE) at birth in High income countries (78.9 years) was higher than the total life expectancy (LE) at birth in each and every one of the low-and-middle-income country regions (Exhibit 2) —specifically, higher than the Americas' (76.4 years) by 2.5 years, higher than the European's (76.1) by 2.8 years, higher than the Western Pacific's (75.9 years) by 3 years, higher than the Eastern Mediterranean's (67.8) and the South East Asian's (67.5 years) by nearly 11 years, and higher than the African's (57.7 years) by 21 years.
Exhibit 2:Source: adapted from WHO, the World Health Organization.
Income also affects the number of years that people can expect to live in "full health."
For example, in 2012 people's healthy life expectancy (HALE) at birth in the High income countries (69.8 years) was higher than people's healthy life expectancy at birth in each and every one of the six low-and-middle income country regions (Exhibit 2) —specifically, higher than the Americas' by 2.7 years, higher than the European's by 2.9 years, higher than the Western Pacific's by 1.7 years, higher than the Eastern Mediterranean's by 11.5 years, higher than the South East Asia's by 11.3 years, and remarkably higher than the African's by 20 years.
Income also influences the percentage of people's lives that they can live in "full health."
In 2012, people in High income countries lived, on average, 88.5% of their lives in "full health," a higher share of healthy life compared to the share of healthy life that people in five of the six low-and-middle-income country regions lived —specifically, higher than the share of healthy life that people in the European and Americas country regions lived (88%) by 0.5%, higher than the share of healthy life that people in the South East Asia country region lived ( 87%) by 1.5%, and higher than the share of healthy life that people in the Eastern Mediterranean and African country regions lived (86%) by 2.5%— Exhibit 2.
Meantime, people in the Western Pacific low-and-middle-income country region, lived, on average, the highest share of healthy life (89.7%) of all, the High income countries and each and every one of the other five low-and-middle-income country regions. Specifically, higher than the share of healthy life that people in the High income countries lived (88.5) by 1.25%, higher than the share of healthy life that people in the European and Americas country regions lived (88%) by 1.7%, higher than the share of healthy life that people in the South East Asia country region lived ( 87%) by 2.7%, and higher than the share of healthy life that people in the Eastern Mediterranean and African country regions lived (86%) by 3.7%— Exhibit 2.
In other words, people in High income countries lived a higher proportion of their lives in full health (between 0.5% and 2.5%) than people in each and every one of five of the six low-and-middle income country regions; but they also lived a smaller proportion (1.25%) of their lives in full health than people in the Western Pacific low-and-middle income country region.
The unique fact that in 2012 people in High income countries lived a smaller proportion (1.25%) of their lives in full health than people in the low-and-middle income countries of the Western Pacific region —a big surprise to me and with raison d'êtres beyond my current knowledge— suggests that there may have been other important factors —other than income— in the low-and-middle-income countries of the Western Pacific region that so positively influenced people's share of healthy life.
Richer, better-educated people live longer than poorer, less-educated people
According to The Spring 2003 Research Summary for the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research —Health, Income and Inequality— "Richer, better-educated people live longer than poorer, less-educated people. According to calculations from the National Longitudinal Mortality Survey which tracks the mortality of people originally interviewed in the CPS and other surveys, people whose family income in 1980 was greater than $50,000, putting them in the top 5 percent of incomes, had a life-expectancy at all ages that was about 25 percent longer than those in the bottom 5 percent, whose family income was less than $5,000. Many economists have attributed these correlations to the effects of education, arguing that more educated people are better able to understand and use health information, and are better placed to benefit from the healthcare system. Lower mortality and morbidity is associated with almost any positive indicator of socioeconomic status."
Conclusive planning consideration #1
At this point in time in this article, it is very apparent that income
can have a big impact on people's life expectancy, on the number of years that
people can expect to live in full health, and on the proportion of people's lives that they
can expect to live in full health. Therefore, it may not be unreasonable to conclude that
communities with strong economies may offer the best opportunities for residents
to go to school, work, and enjoy healthier, longer and better lives, and that
this in turn, may result in reduced health care costs for everyone,
and continued community prosperity.
Exhibit 3: Source: adapted from WHO, the World Health Organization5
Life expectancies at birth around the world also differ between men and women.
As Exhibit 3 shows, in 2012:
- Women consistently outlived men both in the High income countries and in each and every one of the six low-and-middle income country regions
- In the High income countries, where the life expectancy at birth for women was the highest of all (82 years), the gap between the life expectancy at birth for women and the life expectancy at birth for men was the second largest of all (6.2 years)
- In the European low-and-middle-income country region, where the life expectancy at birth for women was the second highest of all (79.6 years), the gap between women's life expectancy at birth and men's life expectancy at birth was the largest of all (7.2 years)
- The smallest gap between women's life expectancy at birth and men's life expectancy at birth was in the African low-and-middle-income country region (2.7 years), suggesting that inequalities in life expectancy at birth between men and women tend to be smaller in regions with shorter overall life expectancy
Genes may not be so important in determining the length of our lives.
The general view that our parents' genes can greatly influence how long we can expect to live has been around for much time. However, a series of recent studies have found that genes may not be so important in determining the length of our lives. In fact, "Twin studies show that genetic differences account for about a quarter of the variance in adult human lifespan. Recent combined analyses of ~20,000 twins born in Nordic countries between 1870 and 1910 confirm this, but they also show that the genetic influences on life span are minimal before the age of 60 and only increase after that age."  & That is, having parents who die in middle age is not particularly informative about life span expectations, but having parents with very long life spans is predictive. This is consistent with the evolutionary theory of senescence [the process of getting old], which postulates that the accumulation of mutations alters mortality specifically in old age, says Dr. James W. Curtsinger in his article published by the Minnesota Medical Association.
Lifestyles affects life expectancy more than genetics —says article on a Swedish study
"How long your parents lived does not affect how long you will live. Instead it is how you live your life that determines how old you will get, [says an article, which] reveals research from Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska Academy recently published in the Journal of Internal Medicine." In fact, professor emeritus Lars Wilhelmsen —responsible for the design, and one of the authors, of the study — is quoted in the article as saying: "It is often assumed that people with parents who lived to be very old are more likely to live to a grand old age themselves. But that's just not true —our study shows that hereditary factors don't play a role and that lifestyle has the biggest impact. Those who did not smoke, consumed moderate amounts of coffee and had a good socio-economic status at the age of 50 (measured in terms of housing costs), as well as good physical working capacity at the age of 54 and low cholesterol at 50 had the greatest chance of celebrating their 90th birthday. "We're breaking new ground here," says Wilhelmsen in the article. "Many of these factors have previously been identified as playing a role in cardiovascular disease, but here we are showing for the first time that they are important for survival in general." He believes that it is significant that the research illustrates so clearly that we do not "inherit" mortality to any great extent, but instead that it is the sum of our own habits that has the biggest impact. "The study clearly shows that we can influence several of the factors that decide how old we get," says Wilhelmsen."
Exercise improves mental and physical health —say several studies
A review of current evidence for the relationship between physical activity and exercise and the brain and cognition throughout the life span in non-pathological populations —focusing on the effects of both aerobic and resistance training— concluded that while all exercise might not be painless or provide the "easy fix" to enhance brain and cognition across the life span, there is ample evidence to support it as one of the most effective means available to improve mental and physical health, without the side effects of many pharmacological treatments.
"Exercise is [also] linked to substantial reductions in the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's. One study14 & found that subjects who were physically active at least twice a week in middle life had more than a 50 percent reduction in the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's diseases in later life.
People shop, socialize and enjoy regular exercise in the pedestrian village of Mont Tremblant, in the province of Quebec, Canada. Photo taken by Luis Rodriguez in the afternoon of July 21st, 2013.
Regular exercise can extend both our total life expectancy and our healthy life expectancy
A study designed to find out whether or not regular exercise could extend the life expectancy, and increase the proportion of healthy life expectancy, among people 65 years of age or more, found that regular exercisers had consistently a longer life expectancy and a higher proportion of healthy life expectancy at all ages (65, 70, 75, 80, 85 and 90) than their counterparts non-exercisers, and that the extensions of life expectancies of the exercisers was mainly in the years of healthy life. Exercisers were those respondents to the study who said they did regular exercise 3-5 times a week, or over 6 times a week. Non-exercisers were those who said they did not exercise at all or those who exercised less than 2 times a week.
The more we exercise, the longer and better we will live
"A study by a team of researchers led by the National Cancer Institute —part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)— found that people who engaged in leisure-time physical activity had life expectancy gains of as much as 4.5 years. After accounting for other factors that could affect life expectancy, such as socioeconomic status, the researchers found that life expectancy was 3.4 years longer for people who reported they got the recommend level of physical activity. People who reported leisure-time physical activity at twice the recommended level gained 4.2 years of life. In general, more physical activity corresponded to longer life expectancy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the parent agency of NIH, recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 engage in regular aerobic physical activity for 2.5 hours at moderate intensity —or 1.25 hours at vigorous intensity— each week."
Walking briskly 450 minutes a week can make us live up 4.5 years longer —says study18
In a new study from Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that adding low amounts of physical activity to one's daily routine, such as 75 minutes of brisk walking per week, was associated with increased longevity: a gain of 1.8 years of life expectancy after age 40, compared with doing no such activity. Physical activity above this minimal level was associated with additional gains in longevity. For example, walking briskly for at least 450 minutes a week was associated with a gain of 4.5 years.
Habits, lifestyles, economic resources, education, jobs and housing can all determine our health, wellbeing and healthy life expectancy
- The greatest challenges for the health of Copenhageners are smoking, alcohol and physical inactivity. Other lifestyle factors, such as diet, also affect the health of Copenhageners
- Smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet cause 40% of all diseases and deaths
- Unhealthy lifestyles are most common among low-resource groups.
- 30% of Copenhageners with a shorter education smoke on a daily basis, as compared to 9% of Copenhageners with a higher education
- A 30-year old man with a shorter education lives 7.4 fewer years than a 30-year old man with a higher education
- Copenhageners have Denmark's shorter life expectancy, just short of 77 years. The residents of Nørrebro [a multicultural district of Copenhagen] live on average to age 73. By comparison, the residents of Copenhagen's inner city live to age 80
- Physical activity is vital for our health and can prevent many diseases, including obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease and several types of cancer
- Physical activity has mental and social benefits as well, in the form of increased energy, well-being, self-esteem and social contact with others
- We want to improve the quality of life of Copenhageners by making it easier to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle every day – with regard to both physical and mental well-being
- If Copenhageners walked or biked more every day, it would not only benefit their health, but also have a positive effect on noise, air pollution and CO 2 emissions
- Our health is, to a great extent, determined by our education, jobs and housing. That is why both our local and national policies and plans for education, the job market and housing are important for our health.
People jogging along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Photo taken by Luis Rodriguez in the afternoon of September 17, 2013.
Jogging can deliver dramatic benefits for longevity, both for men and women
According to a press release by the European Society of Cardiology —regarding a presentation on the latest data from the Copenhagen City Heart study, by Peter Schnohr, at The EuroPRevent 2012 meeting, held in Dublin, Ireland, on May 3-5, 2012— undertaking regular jogging increases the life expectancy of men by 6.2 years and women by 5.6 years. Peter Schnohr also told delegates that the study's most recent analysis (unpublished) shows that between one and two-and-a-half hours of jogging per week at a "slow or average" pace delivers optimum benefits for longevity.
The Cykelslangen —or Cycle Snake— one of the City of Copenhagen's innovations towards making cycling an easier, safer and faster choice for people to get around the City, and also meeting its goal of becoming the best cycling city in the world by 2015. Photo by, and courtesy of, Lars Gemzøe, Urban expert, Architect MAA, at Gehl Architects Aps, Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo taken in the afternoon of June 30, 2014.
The health benefits of cycling can be much larger than the risks relative to car driving
The study Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks? concluded that "On average, the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals shifting their mode of transport." The study also pointed out that " Although from a societal point of view a modal shift from car to bicycle may have beneficial health effects due to decreased air pollution emissions, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and increased levels of physical activity, shifts in individual adverse health effects such as higher exposure to air pollution and risk of a traffic accident may prevail."
However, the better news is that —when considering the latest innovations being implemented around the world to making biking safer, faster, more fun, and more attractive than ever before —it may be not be unreasonable to think that "the health benefits of cycling can be even greater" than what the study mentioned in the previous paragraph found. One particular innovation is a new cycling infrastructure in Copenhagen called Cykelslangen —or Cycle Snake— see photo above. Click here to take a Journey Around Copenhagen's Latest Bicycle Innovations!, including the Cycle Snake. To find out about additional innovations in England, The Netherlands, France, Spain and Norway, click here Amazing cycle super highways making bikes the transport of the future —an article prepared by Peter Shadbolt for CNN.
Children's playground at "The 8 House" —in suburban Ørestad, Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo taken by Luis Rodriguez in the morning of August 30, 2012.
Our home, housing and local environment can improve our wellbeing
"Home, housing and local environment have a direct impact on an individual's well-being. Living in a high-quality home, experiencing few housing problems, and being surrounded by a pleasant local environment, contribute positively to life satisfaction. The local environment also has an indirect impact on well-being by affecting social exclusion and health."
Conclusive planning consideration # 2
At this point in this article, it may be reasonable to conclude that
active lifestyles —including walking, jogging, cycling and other regular exercise—
are key factors to people's physical and mental health, and that together with other factors
—such as education, jobs and housing— they can contribute significantly to people's wellbeing
and quality of life. And that on this basis, it may also be reasonable to think that communities
that support active lifestyles —by providing the necessary policies, programs,
facilities and infrastructures— and the necessary housing, education
and work opportunities for their residents, may have
the best chances to succeed and flourish.
Diet and nutrition are emerging as critical factors in our health —says report 14
"Diet and nutrition are emerging as critical factors in brain health and health in general. A variety of nutrients increase the risks of disease. For example, several studies have shown that higher saturated fat intake increases the risks of dementia by two to three times. Diet and nutrition can also decrease risks of disease. For example, numerous studies show that high intake of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with markedly lower risks for Alzheimer's." 14
"The Mediterranean diet, which includes fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oil is linked to substantially reduced risks of both Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, as well as dramatically lower rates of diabetes, vascular disease, recurrent heart attacks, and metabolic syndrome." 14
The magic of good nutrients and exercise combined is a promising start for our good health
Conclusive planning consideration # 3
From the preceding discussions, it seems reasonable to conclude that
the combination of good nutrients and exercise can magically preserve or improve our health.
In fact, this is not new news. Hippocrates, the world famous figure in medicine,
is often quoted as having said the following nearly 2,500 years ago:
"If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise,
not too little and not too much, we would have found
the safest way to health"
Clean air is fundamental to our health
"Recent studies show that air pollution is harmful to the brain, in addition to the lungs, heart, nose and blood vessels. This evidence is drawn from studies of brains of people living in highly polluted cities compared with those living in clean air cities," according to the Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging report.14
"Air pollutants from cars, trucks and other motor vehicles are found in higher concentrations near major roads. People who live, work or attend school near major roads appear to have an increased incidence and severity of health problems associated with air pollution exposures related to roadway traffic including higher rates of asthma onset and aggravation, cardiovascular disease, impaired lung development in children, pre-term and low-birthweight infants, childhood leukemia, and premature death," according to EPA —the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
People enjoy nature at Planten un Blomen Park in downtown Hamburg, Germany. Photo taken by Luis Rodriguez in the afternoon of August 29, 2012.
Green spaces have big impacts on people's happiness and wellbeing
There is evidence that green spaces have a positive impact on mental health. For instance, in the video Examining a link between urban green spaces and mental health, published by the Medical School of the University of Exeter, in England, Dr Mathew White says: "Our analyses suggest that people are happier when living in urban areas with greater amounts of green space. Compared to instances when they live in areas with less green space they show significantly lower mental distress (GHQ scores) and significantly higher wellbeing (life satisfaction). The analysis also made it possible to compare the beneficial effects of green space with other factors which influence wellbeing. In comparative terms, living in an area with higher levels of green space was associated with improvements in our wellbeing indicators roughly equal to a third of that gained from being married, or a tenth as large as being employed vs. unemployed."
Healthy diets, active lifestyles, clean air and community engagement: key to healthy living
"The key elements of healthy living include: eating healthy and nutritious food; staying active physically and mentally; avoiding harmful toxicants and pollutants; [and] being socially engaged with family, friends, and community," according to the Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging report.14
Conclusive planning consideration # 4
At this time in this article, it may be reasonable to conclude that
clean air communities, with abundant green spaces, and with innovative programs and policies and
attractive public spaces that support and promote civic, social and intellectual engagement,
offer the best chances for residents to become and remain healthier and happier.
Green, multimodal mobility systems and networks: key to healthy & liveable communities
In the summer of 2012, I conducted a study tour in Germany and Scandinavia on innovations in community planning and development. I wanted to find out about the underlying principles for the success of these innovations, and see how communities such as Hamburg, Munich, Malmö, Stockholm and Copenhagen, were planned, designed, developed and managed so that they can be made increasingly more liveable.
"A bike will get you through Munich more quickly and flexibly than any other means of transport. What's more, you'll be relaxed, you won't harm the environment, and it's good for your health," according to The City of Munich, Germany.. Photo taken by Luis Rodriguez in the morning of August 30, 2010.
Germany, Denmark and Sweden have developed a reputation for being world leaders in several aspects related to community planning and development, for example: by building innovative green buildings; high density housing and mixed-use buildings and neighbourhoods; amazing cycling paths, routes and highways; world-famous pedestrian-only shopping streets; and excellent parks, recreation areas, and other public spaces. Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm —in that order— topped 27 other cities in the 2009 European Green City Index. In 2011, the Innovation Union Scoreboard ranked Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden —in that sequence— as the leading countries for innovation among the European Union 27 member states, noting that the overall good performance in innovation of these countries reflected a balanced national research and innovation system. And, in 2012, the Legatum Institute ranked Norway, Denmark and Sweden —in that order— as the highest countries in the world for overall prosperity.
Furthermore, Stockholm, Hamburg and Copenhagen, have respectively won the 2010, 2011 and 2014 European Green Capital Award, according to the European Commission. When giving the awards, the Commission noted the following: "the City of Stockholm launched a new program that allowed visitors the opportunity to explore the solutions created by Stockholm in relation to a variety of themes, including combating climate change and ensuring an effective and sustainable transportation system. Hamburg has achieved high environmental standards and good performance levels in terms of cycling and public transport indicators." And Copenhagen is "a good model in terms of urban planning and design. It is also something of a transport pioneer, aiming to become the world's most practicable city for cyclists. Its goal is to have 50 % of people cycling to their place of work or education by 2015 (35 % cycled to their workplace or school in 2010), helping the city reach an ambitious goal of being CO2 neutral by 2025."
Green, multimodal mobility systems and networks are perhaps the most visible and common innovations in community planning and development in Germany and Scandinavia. They include integrated networks of public transit by road, rail and water; dedicated pedestrian lanes, paths and networks; and plenty of bicycle infrastructure —featuring dedicated bicycle lanes, paths and networks, and highways, with strategically located bicycle parking areas and pump stations— all of which makes it possible for residents to go to the places they need or want to go, quickly, conveniently, safely, comfortably and economically, and without having to drive their private cars at all times. They also make it possible for residents to have increased opportunities for exercising —and therefore, staying physically and mentally active and fit— socializing, and more particularly, breathing fresher air than residents living in communities where the use of the private automobile prevails.
Conclusive planning consideration # 5
Green, multimodal mobility systems and networks
—such as networks of pedestrian paths, bicycle lanes and public transport—
in combination with other community components —such as pedestrian-only shopping streets,
dedicated cycling routes and highways, green spaces and other public spaces designed to promote
civic engagement and social activities, high density housing and mixed-use buildings and
neighbourhoods, and the use of renewable energy generated from natural sources
—such the sun, water and wind— can all make major contributions towards
making our communities healthier, more liveable, and more sustainable.
Conclusive planning considerations for healthy, liveable and sustainable communities
People around the world are living longer and healthier lives than ever before, but they could live a much higher proportion of their lives in "full health," than they do now, if the chances for disease and injury among them were further minimized.
It may not be unreasonable to think that most people around the world wish being able to live higher proportions of their lives in "full health," and that this wish can be accomplished if we strive to make it a reality. One way to start would be by making our communities healthier, and more liveable and sustainable. This article provides plenty of evidence that suggest what kinds of community planning considerations should be emphasized to help realize this wish. For example:
Emphasis on improving the economic growth, prosperity and sustainability of our communities could lead to increased employment opportunities and reduced poverty; additional economic resources for housing, education, social, recreational and health services; increased quality of life and wellbeing among residents; and more economic resources that could be used to build the types of community infrastructures that are required to make our communities healthier.
Emphasis on improving healthy living in our communities could lead to improvements in the quality of the environment, increased awareness about the benefits of healthy habits and diets, the creation of attractive opportunities for residents to carry out more leisure activities and active lifestyles, improved health among residents, more residents that are able to live higher proportions of their lives in "full health," and reduced long-term health care costs.
Emphasis on making our communities healthier and more liveable could result in increasing opportunities for residents to enjoy a high quality of life by enabling them to live in a variety of housing options, and by making it possible —and attractive— for them to walk, bike or take public transportation to go to the places they most frequently need to go every day, such as work, schools, grocery stores, shopping malls, parks, recreational and fitness areas, and health facilities.
It is pretty apparent that healthy, liveable and sustainable communities can make a big difference in our lives as residents. Therefore, I hope that the information and evidence provided in this article can alert and help community planners, officials and politicians in identifying the key links and relationships between the policies, the planning, and the actions that are necessary to make our communities healthier, more liveable and more sustainable.
Luis Rodriguez wishes to thank Dr. Ray Tomalty for his thoughtful and valuable comments on a previous version of this article. Dr. Tomalty is a Principal of Smart Cities Research Services & Adjunct Professor at the School of Urban Planning at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
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