Canadian expert offers tips for Sydney on creating a healthy city

Internationally renowned expert on creating vibrant cities and healthy communities for everyone – Gil Penalosa – has some advice for Sydney during his visit to the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014.                                                   

“Sydney is an outstanding city, known around the world for its beautiful harbour and the unique architecture of the Opera House, but getting around the city can be difficult,” said Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of the Canadian non-government organisation 8-80 Cities.

“Creating a city that is a good place to live, whether you are eight or 80 years old, wealthy or struggling, a long time Australian or a newly-arrived resident, is something we all need to aim for,” he said.

In 2009, for the first time in human history, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and Australia is no exception with over 15 million people – 70% – of the population living in major cities.

Today, the number of urban residents globally is growing by nearly 60 million every year.

“We know from research around the world that our urban lifestyles are contributing to our increasing sickness and poor health,” said Gil.

“As non-communicable diseases are responsible for two-thirds of all deaths globally we need to look to our lifestyle for answers. As most Australians live in a city, we need to closely examine our cities and how we can make them healthier and better places to live.”

Gil’s top priorities for making Sydney a more sustainable and healthy city are:

  • Put pedestrians first! The most important element of creating a healthy and sustainable city is creating a walkable environment that is welcoming and safe to people of all ages and abilities.
  • Develop a 'minimum grid' of safe, separated on-road cycle paths that connect key origins and destinations. A painted line will not work and also disconnected bikeways, even if separated, will not work.
  • Sydney must lower the maximum speed in ALL neighbourhood streets to 30km/h. It will save lives and also make life more enjoyable and safe for all. A person hit by a car going at 30km/h has 5% probability of being killed while at 50km/h the probability increases to over 85%.
  • Activate parks and public spaces through consistent programming and activities for the public. Successful parks are part design and construction, but just as important is management, the uses and the activities.
  • Every citizen should have a neighbourhood park within walking distance. These local parks must be complemented with regional and city parks creating a great city-wide park system that mixes active, passive and contemplative recreation.
  • Citizens can no longer be spectators, they must participate. This contribution may be advocating for more funding for parks, volunteering in activities, or lobbying government to improve the health of citizens of all ages and backgrounds.

During his time in Australia, Gil will speak at a number of sessions and events at the Congress, as well as a breakfast with Sydney business executives.

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