Science proves it: Living in large cities results in less healthy life.
Urban life is harmful to health, so how can we transfer this public health emergency to the citizenship and the decision-making process?
More than 100,000 scientific articles talk about air pollution and health, according to Pubmed, the largest database of biomedical publications.
The scientific evidence is clear: current urban life has serious negative impacts on our health. But the simple fact of living in a city should not imply these risks, especially because they are perfectly avoidable.
We have a double challenge ahead: to make this information understandable to public opinion, that is, for people on the street who are not scientists, and as the ultimate goal, to transfer it to political decision-making.
The company ISGlobal developed the interactive digital report The Cities We Want, which aims to summarize and adapt scientific information on urban life and health so that it is understandable to a general public.
Scientists and communicators have started working together to explain with simple words, videos and illustrations, the keys to build healthier and more sustainable cities.
During the preparation of the report, one of the key messages that we have heard the most from scientists is that it is a global public health emergency that can be addressed from today, because there are many measures available to design healthy cities. That is, the situation is very serious but there are solutions.
The cities we want are cities designed for people: spaces with good air quality, low noise levels and no heat islands. Urban environments with more green spaces that promote healthy levels of physical activity.
So here are 5 measures that cities can apply to put health at the center of priorities:
1. Reducing Air pollution from motorized traffic
Cities were built mainly around cars generate pollution and promote unhealthy lifestyles. In some cities private vehicles occupy between 65% and 70% of the city’s space.
The World Health Organization proposes a series of comprehensive solutions to recover public space for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as to reduce levels of air pollution – a toxic air we breathe in 98% of cities in low-income countries, and in 56% of high-income countries.
2. Reducing noise caused by motorized traffic
Urban planning also plays an essential role in reducing noise levels. The populations most report noise pollution, create noise maps and carry out action plans to reduce noise in the most affected areas.
Some of the most frequent strategies are the use of sound-reducing pavement in the roadways, the limit of traffic volume, the reduction of speed limits or the promotion of silent zones and the creation of green spaces.
3. Increase Physical activity through active transport
Lack of physical activity is the fourth risk factor for global mortality and causes one in four cases of breast and colon cancers.
Active transport, or moving on foot or by bicycle on a daily basis is the most practical and sustainable way to increase physical activity.
A good public transport network makes it easier for citizens to walk and reduce the use of private vehicles. In addition, the availability of green spaces is important to perform physical activity safely.
These measures are collected in a study published in The Lancet, which analyzes physical activity in 14 large cities.
4. Reduce the infrastructure for motorized vehicles and increase green spaces
In the cities, the temperatures are usually higher than in the areas that surround them and the night temperature can reach up to 10 degrees more than in the surrounding area. This effect is known as “heat island”.
Islands of heat and high temperatures increase mortality, especially cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
For this reason, it is necessary that the urban design incorporates as a priority the prevention of the increase in temperatures.
The insulation of buildings can be improved to depend less on the use of air conditioning, to change urban materials for others that absorb less solar radiation, etc.
There are several mitigation plans, such as this guide from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
5. More natural spaces to increase access to nature
The city of the future must be a green city. Scientific studies associate green spaces – urban parks, gardens, tree-lined streets or forests, among others – to numerous health benefits, such as stress reduction, the fact of living longer or in a better state of general and mental health.
Nature must be part of the city. Beyond scattered points, the natural spaces must be a plot that communicates all the urban space and benefits all the citizens.
It is estimated that with better urban planning and transportation, cities could avoid 20% of premature deaths each year.