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Car-centric planning needs a relook for healthier world

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There is an urgency for the cities to be ready for a healthy and sustainable transition, as health and sustainability are the powerhouses of any economy. By 2050, about 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities.

Yet, according to Prof Billie Giles - Corti, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, the current situation sees car-centric planning fostering unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyles, exposing residents to environmental stress, causing biodiversity loss and widening inequalities.

She delivered her keynote speech at the Hope Panel organised by GUTech, the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization at the National Museum.

According to her, cities generate 75 per cent of global energy-related emissions and 86 per cent of global CO2 emissions are from higher-income countries.

She said there is a need for more active people for a healthier world. According to Global Status Report (2022) on physical activity, by 2030, there could be 500 million new preventable cases of non-communicable diseases costing $27 billion annually.

It states that three-quarters will occur in lower and upper-middle-income countries, and 70 per cent of healthcare expenditure in high-income countries will be for treating physical inactivity-related illnesses. Meanwhile, WHO Global Strategy on Health Environment and Climate Change stress the transformation needed to improve lives and well-being sustainably through a healthy environment. She pointed out that Covid-19 highlighted vulnerabilities of city planning, such as crowded conditions, poor air circulation and ambient air pollution.

It also saw migration to suburbs and regions and rapid health-supportive transformations such as telecommuting, road space reallocated - walking, cycling, commerce and cycling infrastructure.

The professor emphasised livable neighbourhood policy to create walkable neighbourhoods aimed to increase walking, cycling, and public transport use and a sense of community.

Mayor of Tirana, Albania, Erin Veliaj, said the epicentre of the city should be people.

“At the City Square, we asked the children to use the space to play instead of parking cars."

He said that although there was opposition initially, kids enjoyed the space so much that they became advocates for keeping cars away.

“Earlier, the green spaces have become car parking, and the pavements were occupied too. Automobiles had become a status symbol, not just a means of transport. We had to ask the question - why do we build cities? Do we make them for cars? We build cities for people,” the mayor noted.

Housing, People and Environment (HOPE) is a platform launched this month to promote a people-centred development approach in planning and designing, focusing on open public spaces to improve quality of life and well-being and examining their interplay with the urban environment.

HOPE seeks to nurture dialogue between scholars, planners and decision-makers with civil society and industry in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda beginning in Oman.


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