Australia

Health is a top priority for planners: Planning Institute

RESPONDING to media reports claiming that planning flaws promote obesity, the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) said recent planning efforts demonstrate that modern planning is creating healthier places to live.

According to PIA, planning practice across Australia over the past decade and recent moves by the Federal Government to better implement urban policy show that the planning sector can contribute towards creating healthier communities.

A recent Sydney Morning Herald article reported that, according to obesity specialists, a lack of green space and accessible public transport are making people overweight.

The article also cited research by the Australian Conservation Foundation that found that poor design and weak planning guidelines for new suburbs forced residents to drive, rather than walk, to local facilities.

PIA Chief Executive Officer Kirsty Kelly said today's planning practice has the health of the community as a top priority and that professional planners are better equipped than ever before to know what constitutes healthy sustainable communities.

"The sort of things that are included in good planning now may not have been considered decades ago. Indeed we still have spaces that were designed in the past that could well do with some renewal and revitalisation," Ms Kelly said.

"Major considerations in planning today include both the health of the community and the environment and in many cases these things go hand in hand," said Ms Kelly, citing the provision cycling facilities, walkable areas and open and green space as examples.

PIA recently collaborated with the National Heart Foundation and the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) to produce 'Healthy Spaces & Places' (HSP), a national guide to creating communities that promote healthy living.

Backed by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, the development of HSP involved focus groups, stakeholder consultation workshops and a team of expert reviewers.

Ms Kelly said that while in the past, suburbs were allowed to develop without any transport infrastructure, shopping facilities or other services, today's planning strives to create and promote healthier communities as well as address crime and other socials issues.

"Planning today aims for spaces and streets that are aesthetically pleasing and safe with adequate lighting at night and shops, restaurants and offices accessed easily by pedestrians," said Ms Kelly.

"People are more inclined to walk to their destination if the proper layout is provided. Good street connectivity, mixed density and land use are all associated with activity such as walking or cycling.

"It has been shown in many studies that if we create attractive and inviting areas with facilities and services accessed easily, people will love being there.

"This is not to ignore the need for continued major infrastructure in our rapidly growing cities but to understand human needs in areas where people gather to work rest and play," Ms Kelly said.

More information on Healthy Spaces and Places is available from <http://www.healthyplaces.org.au/>.

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