What makes a Healthy, 10-Minute Neighborhood?

Part One - Defining Principles

Around the world cities are growing rapidly. Some are spreading horizontally, some are reaching for the sky, and others are searching for the sweet spot in the middle. Which approach offers the best solutions?

This is a question we shall address at the 55th International Making Cities Livable Conference, May 14-18, 2018, in Ottawa. We shall be asking:

1.     What principles should guide the development of Healthy 10-Minute Neighborhoods?

2.     How are cities around the world addressing this goal?

3.     How well do these cities fulfill each of the principles?

4.     How can we best develop a process for achieving the goals?

Many important principles must guide neighborhood planning and design. A neighborhood must be healthy, sustainable, equitable; it must provide easy access to shops, services, schools, to nature and community, ideally within a 10-minute walking radius; it must nurture the spirit, and be functional; it must assure quality of life for all ages, be affordable for all residents; it must reduce energy consumption in its construction and daily functioning, and be financially viable for developers; and to ensure development responds to community needs, citizens must be involved in the planning, design, and improvement process.

The 10-Minute walking radius:

The 10-minute walking radius for a healthy neighborhood is a valuable rule of thumb. In his new book, Within Walking Distance Philip Langdon, New Urban News Editor studied some highly reputed neighborhoods renowned for their walkability and will report on his findings in a keynote address. Philip will be signing copies of his book.

Dorothy Riddle, President, Hidden Mobility Disabilities Alliance, will point out that planning focused on "walkable" 10-minute neighborhoods must also provide accessibility solutions for those who can walk only 35-50 feet without incurring serious health consequences.

Cities vary tremendously in their urban fabric and what they can offer within a ten-minute walking radius, and some urban fabrics may need radical rebuilding to create walkable neighborhoods.  Christine Storry, from Sydney, Australia will explore the existing character of ten-minute walking neighborhoods in three Australian capital cities.

Pedestrian networks and traffic calming:

To facilitate children’s play in the public realm, and the co-presence of elders and those with mobility challenges, a network of traffic-free, pedestrian-friendly streets and squares is optimal. Over the last 40 years, hundreds of European cities in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, etc. have redesigned their city center and some neighborhoods as almost completely traffic-free.  Other major cities such as London  are beginning to make the move. Jerusalem’s old city offers a recent, and beautifully repaved and designed pedestrian and traffic reduced network that will be presented by Ofer Manor, Jerusalem’s Chief Architect.

Other presentations will illustrate the best models of Woonerfs and traffic calming in North America, such as Park Lane Woonerf in Kirkland, WA, that has transformed this area of downtown into a lively, attractive street. Eric Schmidt from Cascade Design Collaboratives will talk about how Park Lane measures up from an equity perspective, an environmental perspective, a design/aesthetic perspective, an economic perspective and of course a traffic perspective.

Physical and social health:

The IMCL Conference mission states that the goal of creating healthy, 10-Minute Neighborhoods must be: “to enhance the physical and social health and well-being of all inhabitants, strengthen community, and increase civic engagement by sustainably reshaping the built environment”.

As the internationally renowned pediatrician and public health expert Richard Jackson will emphasize, a neighborhood must be designed to support healthy child development, a healthy way of life for all, promoting walking and biking over dependence on the car. It must provide access to healthy local food, and easy access to the health benefits that nature offers for the poor as well as the rich. We must construct our homes responsibly, without polluting our environment, increasing climate change, or jeopardizing the health of generations yet to come.

Humans are social beings. A recent report observed that loneliness and social isolation may be even more damaging to health and well-being than lack of exercise, poor diet, or smoking. Our neighborhoods must, therefore, be designed to foster social life and community. Another study just out indicates that the optimal solution seems to be a moderate density, compact urban fabric with hospitable streets and squares that contain necessary shops and services and pleasurable elements that draw people together and encourage interaction. This core social health principle will be presented by Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard. In a related presentation, Nancy Rivenburgh calls such places “communication rich environments”.

And it is not enough to create a playground for children, and a place for elders to gather. There need to be urban places and events that foster engagement across generations, as Philip Stafford, Director, Center on Aging and Community will discuss in his keynote on Intergenerational Contact Zones: Design for Engagement across the Generations.

The renowned Architect and former Mayor of Bristol, UK, George Ferguson, will discuss urban design strategies for bringing together the different generations that he, and collaborating organizations in the UK have used.

Drawing on Australian examples Jenny Donovan will illustrate design features that help create places where people thrive. She will be signing copies of her new book. Designing the Compassionate City

Inclusive:

In an inspirational presentation on The Experiential City, Daniel Iacofano from MIG will illustrate how neighborhoods can support the physical, economic, environmental, cultural and social needs of all people to ensure that our neighborhoods are fully inclusive, welcoming and thriving.

While it is important that adults do not abdicate their responsibility for sharing their broader knowledge and experience of potential ways to make open spaces child-friendly, we know that the very experience of being involved in creating open spaces, of having their voice heard, and helping to create the space is valuable for children. Carlo Fabian from Switzerland will demonstrate that the type of involvement he organized may even have a positive impact on children’s health, while Nathan Senthil from India will emphasize how permaculture play parks benefit children's health. And from Campbell River’s Long Range Planning & Sustainability Manager, Amber Zirnhelt we will hear how making a food map can also be a tool for community development.

Combatting inequality:

Health inequality is a worldwide phenomenon that is escalating as economic inequality spirals out of control. When a city acknowledges the serious health inequalities between have and have not neighborhoods it is honor bound to take action. Al Fletcher, Manager of Hamilton’s Neighbourhood Action Strategy will share how the city invests in 11 "forgotten" neighborhoods. Dr. Pablo Cabrera-Barona of the University of Salzburg will tell of similar work in a low-income urban neighborhood in Quito, Ecuador.

In our next blog we shall describe some of the exemplary projects from around the world that will be presented at the 55th IMCL Conference.