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Report Calls for More Work to Promote Health in Growing Cities

LONDON: Better planning and a bottom-up approach can make the world’s cities healthier places for the billions of people who live in them, according to a report in the British medical journal The Lancet.

The report says three of every five people in the world will live in cities by the year 2030, with two billion in slums. It says keeping them healthy will require good planning and local initiatives, in addition to health care services.

The report says some of the efforts will be large-scale government projects, like sewage systems. But many others will be local projects to promote such things as air quality, better building standards, exercise and urban gardens.

The report’s lead author, Planning and Public Policy Professor Yvonne Rydin of University College London, says there is a lesson in the report for governments and city planners.

“You cannot have a comprehensive plan that foresees all possibilities," said Rydin. "You have to recognize that there will be unintended consequences. And therefore what we promote is the idea of planning for urban health through projects - projects that are suited to particular localities, projects that engage with local communities, projects that try out different ways of enhancing urban health.”

But Professor Rydin says city governments have an important role to play, where they have sufficient resources.

“Local governments have a capacity to promote these kind of projects, plan them on a strategic level," she said. "They can fund some of them as well. But also in many cases you can take advantage of the resources of communities themselves."

Professor Rydin says a variety of cities around the world are having success with a project-based approach, ranging from a sanitation effort in Mumbai, India, to improved public transit in Bogota, Colombia, to urban farming in Accra, Ghana

The Lancet report says governments should identify such successful local projects that contribute to healthier environments and promote them elsewhere in their cities. It also calls on cities to build alliances with local communities, identify health problems in various neighborhoods and consider the impact on health when they plan large-scale development.