Our bodies are designed to move. Our cities should be too.
There are some cities that will spend every dollar they've got on moving cars, and others that have have come to realize that it is more important to move people. In Bristol, a new report has just been released in time for the Active Cities Summit that is "a blueprint for creating active cities, whatever their size and wherever in the world they may be."
TreeHugger emeritus Matthew Sparkes, now working with Sustrans, a UK charity that promotes active living, tells TreeHugger that the summit and the report make the case that "providing decent walking and cycling routes gives a measurable economic benefit for cities."
The economic benefits and returns are actually pretty amazing. Making cities places better for walking can increase local business up to 40 percent and raise retail rents by up to 20 percent. It reduces health care costs significantly, saves lives, reduces pollution and fuel consumption. Philip Insall, Health Director at Sustrans, points out that that it can give cities a competitive advantage:
In an age when successful companies and talented workers have the freedom to locate absolutely anywhere on the globe, cities can give themselves a competitive edge by making a healthy, active lifestyle easy to choose. Many cities are already seeing the benefits of physical activity and are making themselves desirable to live in. The relationship between physical activity and economic performance has been clear for years, but this research shows active cities are healthier, wealthier, safer, greener and more cohesive. Not surprisingly, the people who live in them are happier. That’s an advantage.
Some of the things that cities can do are simple and cheap, like keeping school running tracks open and the lights on in parks, or reducing speed limits, plowing trails and bike lanes in winter or simply encouraging people to take the stairs. The report suggests that "a little bit of paint and stair prompts can go a long way" in getting people to use them.
Alas, these things don't happen in many cities. To save money they are turning lights off, chaining school yards and don't even start on reducing speed limits. As for stairs, they are in the wrong place and are all covered in security alarms. Without political will to actually think beyond the automobile and the tax rate, these things don't happen.
There are so many good ideas in this report that is supposed to be "a guide for city leaders." Our problem today is we have so few of those.
Read the whole thing in a download from Sustrans here.