Building healthy cities

People at a park in front of a city. Town planning isn’t about moving people around in cars, it’s about creating cities that get people moving – this is the message University of South Australia researcher Dr Han Pieters is delivering during this year’s Public Health Week.

And with today marking World Health Day, he says this is an important opportunity to explore how we can boost health and wellbeing by rethinking the way we design our built environments. 

Dr Pieters, who runs the Urban and Regional Planning programs at UniSA, says providing the next generation of town planners with the right tools to consider chronic diseases such as diabetes while they design the roads, walkways and parks of the future will improve health outcomes across the board.

“Good urban design creates opportunities for walking, contact with nature, social interaction and nutritious food consumption and these behaviours are essential for health and wellbeing,” he says.  

“The City of Adelaide for example is creating these opportunities through the current Market to Riverbank Link project. Through elements such as paving, landscaping, street furniture and public art, they are introducing new ways for people to use the space, which will have a number of positive health benefits. 

“Town planners play a critical role in improving health outcomes for our population so it’s important we give fundamental health education to those tasked with designing our built environments.”

Dr Pieters works with UniSA Health Sciences Program Director, Dr Janette Young to deliver the course, ‘Planning for Healthy Cities’, which explores the relationship between built environments and health.

“The course is for Health Sciences and Urban and Regional Planning students, meaning students from both disciplines develop skills in understanding the links between the built environment and chronic disease,” Dr Young says.

“Right now, twenty groups of students are working on urban design and health promotion ideas to improve health outcomes at local, neighbourhood, metropolitan and State-wide levels.

“They’re looking at everything from assessing public open space in relation to children's physical activity to how urban design encourages social interaction at the Lightsview development.”

In the past five years, more than 270 town planning and health science students have completed the course.

The theme for this year’s Public Health Week, which runs from April 3 to April 7, is ‘Step Up. Be Healthy’, focusing on the physical and metaphorical steps that we can take as policy makers, councils, communities and individuals, to build a healthier community for all South Australians.

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Contact for interview:  Dr Hans Pieters mobile 0418 814 885 email johannes.pieters@unisa.edu.au
Media contact: Rosanna Galvin office (08) 8302 0578 email: rosanna.galvin@unisa.edu.au
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