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How to build healthy environment

THE FIRST phase of the BGC Greenway, which will increase the green space within BGC by 30%, is slated to begin construction by middle of the year.   Photo from Urban Land Institute Philippines' Facebook page

THE FIRST phase of the BGC Greenway, which will increase the green space within BGC by 30%, is slated to begin construction by middle of the year. Photo from Urban Land Institute Philippines’ Facebook page

Imagine the daily life of urban dwellers. As soon as they get out of their homes, they encounter elements that pose risks to their health—from different forms of pollution to commute- and work-related stress. With residences and workplaces often lacking walkways and green areas, urban dwellers are now exposed to a sedentary lifestyle.

Because health is a core component of thriving communities, global network Urban Land Institute (ULI) believes there is a major link between human health and development. As a result, urban communities not only in the Philippines but around the world are facing health challenges related to their built environment.

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Is there a way to make city living healthy?

In July 2013, ULI launched the “Building Healthy Places” initiative, a research-, publication- and advisory-based campaign within its global networks to shape projects and places in ways that improve the health of people and communities across the globe.

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Urging people to walk

Urban Land Institute Philippines chair Charlie Rufino shared during the second leg of the first Maynila Urban Design Festival on May 17 at Maestranza Plaza, Intramuros, how his organization launched a local version of the campaign to promote walkability of cities, and thus, a healthy urban lifestyle.

Using as an example Bonifacio Global City (BGC), one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing metropolitan areas, ULI Philippines spearheaded the “Resilient and Healthy BGC Initiative” which calls for an engagement of various stakeholders in building a sustainable city program.

Rufino said that aside from giving design suggestions to developers on how to build healthy environments, at the core of the project is to encourage people to walk. He stressed the importance of having a walkable city, which has long-term health benefits. The simple act of walking instead of using the elevator, for instance, is a healthy choice by itself.

“In the United States, they spend $2.7 million in healthcare and the average American male lives five years less than its European counterpart. That’s tremendous. Why? Because Europeans walk a lot more,” said Rufino.

Since the beginning of the campaign, the group has been actively engaging the public through various activities such as citywide fire drills and Jane’s Walk, promoting parks and bike lanes, and conducting community disaster preparedness. The BGC Greenway, a multiphased project to improve physical and mental health among dwellers, is also in the works.

The growing demand for healthy places, according to ULI, is indicated by the increase in percentage of millennials who think walkability is important in where they choose to live or work.

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Development strategies

As part of the campaign, the ULI launched early this year the “Building Healthy Places Tool-kit: Strategies for Enhancing Health in the Built Environment.” The book highlights development strategies that can improve health outcomes, such as providing protected bikeways, minimizing noise pollution, and offering amenities such as community gardens.

The book is a response to declining health trends in the United States and other countries around the world because of the lack of healthy and active living environments. Data show that 13 million school days are missed each year in the United States due to asthma-related illnesses. The number of children with type 2 diabetes related to sedentary lifestyles has tripled since 1980, and more and more people are becoming overweight.

Recommendations

The Building Healthy Places toolkit categorizes its recommendations into three: 1) the availability of opportunities to be physically active; 2) access to healthy food and drinking water; and 3) exposure to a healthy environment with a high degree of social interaction.

These include designing well-connected street networks to human scale; providing sidewalks, bike lanes and places for multigenerational play and recreation; promoting healthy food retail and on-site gardening and farming; and facilitating proper ventilation, airflow and social engagement.

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TAGS: development, health and wellness, healthy environment, urban land institute
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