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Belfast Healthy Cities

Our vision is to be a leader in creating
a healthy, equitable and sustainable city

Healthy Cities 21st Century

Healthy Transport

Healthy Transport

Covid-19 is redefining the relationship to both personal and public space. The long relationship between health and planning is one of the reasons why cities have proven so resilient. Cities have been quick to adapt, rolling out informal instructions to create a new standard of social behaviour. In a matter of weeks, officials and individuals all over the world brought about enormous change in infrastructure in city areas, normally resistant to change.

Cities see the advantages of reduced traffic; the challenge is how to make sure some of the changes are sustained, keeping in mind health and well-being. New housing developments are considering work ready homes, integrating remote working space into new designs. Flexibility has been at the core of change and the question is, is there the will to make this flexibility permanent.

Covid-19 has changed peoples travel habits and behaviours. There is now the opportunity to help people form more sustainable travel habits. Managing streets and public spaces, required little more than tape, traffic cones, spray paint, with a sense of urgency to bring about instant change in people’s behaviour. Travel demands can be better managed including home working, staggering start hours or extended working hours to keep current underused road space for more sustainable modes of travel.

Cities can be made safer by putting in place infrastructure that allows a move away from the pollution of vehicles that claim lives prematurely and an increased use of space for all. Department for Infrastructure Minister’s initiative in Northern Ireland is targeted at maintaining the walking and cycling habits that have developed during Covid-19 as well as developing quiet streets to support child friendly places.

Social distancing during Covid-19 has been more possible in privileged neighbourhoods. People who can work from home are largely in middle to high income jobs. Longer term, if people could work at home one day a week, it could be transformative for air pollution and public health. In changing practices, it is essential that inequalities across the communities in the city are not exaggerated.

Space is framed politically and economically. The majority of open space in cities is parking space. Parking space that is public space, requires a more sustainable approach where, for example, parking space can be allocated, where two or more people are in a vehicle, leaving current parking and other space funded by the public, returned to the public for other usage. Space for cars is measured to ensure road width supports car driving. Pedestrian space needs to be created that is safe; pedestrians now need to have 2 metre safety zones.

Making health goals central to the decision-making processes remains a challenge, but has real potential to create places that enhance social cohesion, increase the levels of physical activity and of mobility for people with disabilities and promote child-friendly and age-friendly environments and reduce chronic disease incidences, including obesity, asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer.