For­get the sub­urbs, big city life’s bet­ter for your health

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES TRENDS -

Lon­don: Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, busy city cen­tres beat sub­ur­ban liv­ing when it comes to hu­man well­be­ing, as so­cial­is­ing and walk­ing make for hap­pier, health­ier peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

Down­town res­i­dents — packed to­gether in tight row houses or apart­ment blocks — are more ac­tive and so­cially en­gaged than peo­ple who live in the sprawl of sub­ur­bia, ac­cord­ing to a re­port that aims to chal­lenge pop­u­lar be­liefs about city life. Its au­thors said their find­ings should en­cour­age politi­cians to pro­mote the ben­e­fits of built-up city liv­ing.

“If we can con­vince pol­icy mak­ers that this is a pub­lic health op- por­tu­nity, we can build well-de­signed com­mu­ni­ties, and in the long term, you have made a big dif­fer­ence in health out­comes,” its coau­thor Chin­moy Sarkar told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

“With ev­i­dence, we can plan multi-func­tional, at­trac­tive neigh­bour­hoods that pro­mote phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, pro­mote so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, and shield from neg­a­tives, such as pol­lu­tion and feel­ing un­safe.”

The study - by Ox­ford Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Hong Kong (UHK) - showed that in 22 Bri­tish cities, peo­ple liv­ing in built-up res­i­den­tial ar­eas had lower lev­els of obe­sity and ex­er­cised more than res­i­dents in scat­tered, sub­ur­ban homes.

“As cities get more and more com­pact, they be­come more walk­a­ble. In denser res­i­den­tial ar­eas, they are bet­ter de­signed and more at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tions. We are less de­pen­dent on our cars and use pub­lic trans­port more,” he said.

Sarkar, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at UHK, said poli­cies and plan­ning needed to catch up with the data, rather than re­ly­ing on ur­ban myths about what makes cities work.

The study showed that ar­eas of sub­ur­ban sprawl with about 18 homes per hectare - such as poorly de­signed neigh­bour­hoods near mo­tor­ways, where driv­ing is the only op­tion - had the great­est rates of obe­sity and low­est rates of ex­er­cise.

Sub­ur­ban ar­eas with few homes - of­ten priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ties with big gar­dens and open spa­ces - were health­ier than this, but lagged be­hind the most densely pop­u­lated ar­eas in in­ner cities.

Walk­ing makes the big­gest dif­fer­ence, said Sarkar, and so­cial in­ter­ac­tion and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity thrive best in com­pact com­mu­ni­ties. The study com­pared more than 4,00,000 res­i­dents of cities - in­clud­ing Lon­don, Glas­gow, and Cardiff - and found the best health came in ar­eas with more than 32 homes per hectare.

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