RMIT: Australian cities out-of-step on walkability, transport: study

Australian cities may be less likely to promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles than some lower-income global counterparts, a global study has found.

Led by RMIT University, The Lancet Global Health study assessed the lived experience against urban design, transport and health policies in 25 cities globally.

The Australian cities assessed – Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney – failed to meet health and sustainability thresholds, let down by poor access to public transport and car-centric designs.

Lead researcher Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti said the report was a wake-up call.

“Our car-centric cities are falling short globally, in terms of being healthy and sustainable for all,” Giles-Corti, of RMIT University, said.

“Despite positive rhetoric about health, sustainability and liveability, many cities we studied – including in Australia – did not have adequate policies to promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

“Urban design standards often fell short of what’s needed to create healthy neighbourhoods, such as safe walking routes and green spaces.”

The study is among the first to assess health-supportive city planning policies, urban design and transport using standardised methods.

The research used indicators such as proximity to public transport and food, walkability, density and policies to understand the health and sustainability of cities across the globe.

Most Australians were found to live in areas that did not meet density and walkability thresholds, in line with World Health Organisation targets to encourage physical activity.

Only 37–44% of the population in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne lived in a neighbourhood with above-average walkability, whereas most people in cities such as Sao Paulo (97%), Hong Kong (96%), Chennai (92%) and Mexico City (87%) lived in a neighbourhood with above-average walkability.

Australian cities also performed poorly when assessed for access to frequent public transport. 49–57% of residents lived near frequent public transport, compared to Sao Paulo (94%), Hong Kong (83%) and Lisbon (93%), where nearly everyone had access.

All 11 European cities included in the study outperformed Australia on almost all indicators.

Giles-Corti said urgent policy reform was needed to help rebuild healthier and more sustainable cities.

“Without good urban policies, we can’t deliver healthy and sustainable cities,” she said.

“Cities should boast neighbourhoods where people can live locally, walk and cycle and have access to amenities they need for daily living.”

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