Last week I chaired a panel session at a conference organised by The Mayor’s Office. This from the Urbanista.org website kind of sums it up.
“The event builds on the highly successful annual Fit City conferences held in New York staged by the Centre for Active Design, and look at the integration of urban design and health boosting activities in helping to prevent diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Speakers include James Corner, the landscape architect, founder of director of james corner field operations, on their design for the South Plaza of the Olympic Park, Bob Allies, Partner, Allies and Morrison, on the legacy masterplan, David Burney, Commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction, City of New York, Karen Lee, Centre for Active Design, New York, Kathryn Firth, Chief of Design, London Legacy Development Corporation, City of New York, and Russell Jones, Glasgow City Council, on the city’s forthcoming Commonwealth Games.
The event will feature talks about the plans being developed for the 2016 Rio Olympics from a health perspective and the Sochi Winter Olympics, and Canada’s design and health practices, culminating in a panel chaired by designer Wayne Hemingway with representatives from the NHS, Public Health England and the GLA.”
I’m someone who loves walking, running and cycling in cities. I am all up for initiatives that encourage our towns and cities to be more focused on walking and cycling. I also applaud the fact that the importance of green space in our cities is recognised.
There were many interesting things discussed; stairs were one discussion point and one thing that always gets my goat is buildings that make using the stairs so difficult. I much prefer using stairs and have lost count of the times that I have been in a hotel and wanted to use the stairs and either have not been able to find them or have found them and ended up only being able to reach the fire assembly point rather than the reception.
I am a regular visitor to The John Lewis HQ in Victoria and the queues for the lift can be frustrating, whilst the stairs are like a maze and only go to certain floors.
Why can’t stairs be a design feature, they can be beautiful!
Another was a talk about designing streets and encouraging land use that takes you on a voyage of discovery and encourages walking and cycling as a form of exploration. I’m all for that and all ties in with that High St / Town Centre debate that is raging right now.
To achieve fit and active cities we do have to see a major shift in public attitude. As long as the car lobby remains so strong and pedestrians and cyclists are seen as second class citizens then things won’t improve quick enough. Why can’t politicians say it like it is, those that use cars for unnecessary journeys in cities are the second class citizens being lazy, more likely to be overweight and unhealthy, and more likely to cost society more in terms of health costs (from damage to themselves and others) are environmentally unsustainable and selfish!
The ‘public attitude’ situation was best summed up by my experience getting to the conference at The Hackney Marshes Centre. Contrary to the advice in the ‘joining instructions’ from the Conference organisers (which was to take a taxi to the Fit Cities conference?), I traveled on the Central Line to Leyton and planned to walk from there. Looking at the maps on my phone, I guessed it was about a mile. I set off past Asda and wondered if I could walk through the Asda car park to cut a corner out. There was a policeman outside Asda, so just like my mum advised me to; I decided to ‘ask a policeman’. He asked me where I was heading for:
“Hackney Marshes Centre” I said.
“You can’t walk there” he replied.
“Why? “ I asked
“It’s a long long way” he said.
“It can’t be much more than a mile can it?” I asked.
“It depends how fast you walk” was his deadpan answer.
I walked at a medium pace, took in the sights of the Olympic Park. It was 1.3 miles and took me 19 minutes and 36 seconds.