Parramatta City Council (NSW, Australia) is facing a series of sustainability challenges and has put together a task force to help them develop policies to address these pressing challenges over the next 10 years. Among these challenges is the problem of planning to support active living considering that the Parramatta City has among the lowest median ages in Australia at 33.5 years against the nation’s 37.3 years (Australian Bureau of Statistics) translating into a rather young populace with an angling tilting towards an aging population, those with 45 years and more, who also make up a considerable part of the demographic graph at 33%. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the city of Parramatta has a young population, and it is important that this population has to be planned for. See table below.
Table: Population of Parramatta City over five years 2008 – 2012
Active Living Origins
According to Brown and Kraft (372), active living was precipitated by an announcement in 1996 by the Surgeon General’s report on physical activity and health, which recognized the numerous health benefits of physical activity and asserted that thirty minutes of moderate physical activity more than a few days per week possibly will help to prevent a range of diseases.
This has been ever since been the highlight and guiding principle of any planning that would want to bring such benefits to populations found in metropolitan areas. It is the acknowledgment that the overarching purpose of what is now considered spatial planning aimed at incorporating active living is human health and well-being, and understanding that retraces the roots of modern town planning and seeks to refresh them albeit embracing modern practices and realities (Crawford et al 95).
Aerial Photo of Parramatta
Photo Courtesy of Parramatta Economic Development Strategy
In recent times, it has been established that the environment that most people in urban centers find themselves in has a direct bearing on their overall wellbeing. Physical inability has been linked to sedentary lifestyles that have in relation been linked to lifestyle diseases like obesity and heart disease. It is with this in mind that planning for an active living has received renewed interest by planners, scholars, and public authorities like city councils. Those tasked with planning and are concerned with issues of public health are as a result beginning to (re)build interdisciplinary connections, specifically planning policies now encompass the ‘active living’ agenda, determined to encourage physical activity by seeking to embrace walking and biking as viable transportation and recreation options (Laurian 117). It should be realized that mindsets are shifting fast, to a certain extent as a result of WHO policy. The WHO Healthy Cities Programme has been acting as a catalyst for “healthy urban planning” in municipalities across Europe since 1998 and at hand is the increasing identification among skilled planners that the health–environment linkage is significant, and that various contemporary development trends compromise health (Crawford et al 96).
Australia has not been entirely out of this movement having its own designs and institutions working towards ensuring that built environments support health in urban areas. Writing in ‘Planning for the Health of People and Planet: An Australian Perspective’, Capon and Thompson cite several Australian institutions dating as far back as 2004. These institutions have come up with measures that have established resources and initiatives that not only support planning and developing sustainable communities which encourage healthy ways of living but also have helped in the reframing of urban policy to be an integrative component of health and environmental challenges in built environments (Crawford et al 111). Parramatta can also embrace this heightened interest in the country for planned active living to its advantage.
Parramatta City Municipality
The city of Parramatta has an acreage of 6,136 ha of which 5,651 ha (92%) is built-up area. This leaves very little space of free space, that is, 8% of the unbuilt area. In this space, you have other amenities like roads and the Parramatta River and Park (Australian Bureau of Statistics).
Chart Showing Built Environment of Parramatta City
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics
In addition, the public transport and the number of vehicles in the city lead to most people rarely getting involved in physical movements that do not involve mechanized transport. On the other hand, the Government of New South Wales, which Parramatta falls under, has realized that well-designed communities should promote and maintain physical activity. They have ascertained that after smoking, physical inactivity is the second most preventable cause of illness and premature death for Australians and that currently only half of the NSW population meets the recommended level of at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week (New South Wales Government).
Built Environment and Health
According to Laurian (118), “the current links between planning and public health revolve around two themes: environmental quality and the impact of the built environment on physical activity”. On the other hand, Hanson and Garry have identified that obesity and low physical activity are strongly linked and there is increasing evidence that the built environment can inhibit or enhance activity levels among all age groups (387-88). It is this and similar-minded knowledge and initiative that has led to the push to create avenues that can bring healthy lifestyles into cities and other built environments through planning active living initiatives. There is a concern to push the creation of activity-friendly environments that will encourage active lifestyles. This has been necessitated by increasing awareness that a confluence of factors such as physical inability, obesity, populations growth, climate change, declining oil supplies, and their combined health, social, environmental, and economic impacts do have a bearing on the wellbeing of society and such there is need for change in the built environment to increase walking, cycling, and transit use (Ainsworth and Macera 271).
Parramatta has a very interesting demographic attribute that makes it ideal to adopt planning for active living. As indicated in the table above and as identified by the Parramatta City Council in its publication, its inner-city population, and attendant 24-hour economic cycle are growing. Add this to Parramatta’s residents who are young, increasingly educated, multi-cultural, and highly aspirant and you see the need for planning to cater for the unique circumstances that are the city’s being (Parramatta Economic Development Strategy 5).
Although it is upon each city though to decide and prioritize including planning for active living in their plans. Edwards and Agis identify the major features of such an undertaking to be leadership, partnership, being systematic and strategic, and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise (38). They further add that although there are a variety of ways that physical activity can be incorporated for cities, the challenge for local leaders who choose to embrace planning for active living is to invest in developing a comprehensive approach; and towards this initiative will be the utilization of any opportunities and chances to start and to support active living projects in neighborhoods and other settings where interest has been shown and there is also the availability of resources. This is very important considering that any planning for an active living has to be accompanied by supporting infrastructure.
Rippe et al (218) have declared that recent reviews have linked the very important position that is played by physical activity in promoting active living as a result of what they term community-scale and street-scale environmental infrastructure in promoting physical activity. The place of planning for infrastructure to support any kind of active living cannot be overemphasized and the former rigid views on the importance and bearing infrastructure and built environments had on health and active living has to change. Considering that this planning and infrastructure development falls under the ambit of local planning overseen by local authorities, it is of utmost importance they understand it and get it right. This has been aptly captured by Crawford et al who postulate:
From a development planning perspective, a renewed focus on the health outcomes of spatial planning will change how we approach the assessment and delivery of housing needs and the evaluation of all types of infrastructure, including social infrastructure (Crawford et al 93).
Contemporary Planning Active Living
Arlington, Virginia adopted biking as part of its active living planning and to alleviate the problem of transportation for the public in a highly dense area that was heavily built environment almost similar to Parramatta. This is an urban setting that adopted biking when it had almost similar characteristics with the current prevailing conditions of Parramatta: Population-174,284 and 26 square miles (Hanson and Garry 389) against Parramatta’s 178,549 in population and 23.6 square miles (Australian Bureau of Statistics). According to Hanson and Garry (405), what can be potentially a replicable example from Arlington is the approach of building a section at a time, occasionally even at less than desirable principles in order to get the components of a system into place and then improve will arrive later.
Graph showing Comparison between Paramatta and Arlington, when Arlington adopted Planned Active Living
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Hanson and Garry 389
Planning to support active living by the Parramatta City Council as part of tackling its sustainability challenges is an effort that should be lauded and embraced without reservations. In itself, the Parramatta area has a unique set of circumstances that it seeks to exploit and position itself as a modern metropolis under the larger Sydney area. Owing to its relatively young population and the plan to become a knowledge-based economy, it has the challenges of seeing most of its populations living in close proximity to their work areas. As such, creating avenues, opportunities, and resources that will highlight active living is a must and not an option. Embracing planning that will lead to activities such as biking and walking into the built environment of the greater areas will not only help in avoiding a sedentary lifestyle and related complications for its population but will also attract even a younger generation of people who are health and environmental consciousness and the talents that they possess which will be an accumulative plus for the city.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.
Laurian, Lucie. “Planning For Active Living: Should We Support A New Moral Environmentalism?.” Planning Theory & Practice 7.2 (2006): 117-136. Academic Search Premier. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.
Ainsworth, Barbara, and Macera Caroline A. Physical Activity and Public Health Practice. CRC Press, 2012. Print
“Parramatta Economic Development Strategy 2011-2016”. Parramatta City Council. November 2011. Print.
Edwards, Peggy, and Agis D. Tsouros. Promoting Physical Activity and Active Living in Urban Environments: The Role of Local Governments. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2006. Print.
Hanson, Royce, and Garry Young. “Active Living And Biking: Tracing The Evolution Of A Biking System In Arlington, Virginia.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy & Law 33.3 (2008): 387-406. Business Source Complete. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.
Brown, Lawrence D., and Kraft M. Katherine. “Active Living, The Built Environment, And The Policy Agenda.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy & Law 33.3 (2008): 371-386. Business Source Complete. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.
New South Wales Government. Planning for Active Living. Web. 22 Oct. 2014
Crawford, Jenny, et al. “Health At The Heart Of Spatial Planning Strengthening The Roots Of Planning Health And The Urban Planner Health Inequalities And Place Planning For The Health Of People And Planet: An Australian Perspective.” Planning Theory & Practice 11.1 (2010): 91-113. Academic Search Premier. Web. 22 Oct. 2014