The healthy city

Cobouw column by Wim van den Berg

When I get home from a run, panting for breath, I feel satisfied. I have spent another hour on a healthy activity. Although I always smile when I pass the queues of traffic on the road, somehow I can’t raise a smile when I read about what that traffic is doing to the air quality and noise levels in my city. Research shows that 6 % of all health complaints are due to the poor quality of the urban environment. My exercise is healthy enough, but what about the city? It seems to be distinctly unhealthy. Why do I never hear anyone complain? Friends, neighbours and family are all silent on the matter. Either they are not aware, or they simply accept that the city is an unhealthy place to be. I have to admit that I too own a car.

Fortunately, I now spend much of my time working on projects which are concerned with ‘the healthy city’. That is an urban environment which invites people to walk or cycle, which is built using sustainable materials, and in which there is very little pollution. The concept fascinates me, since it is already a huge challenge to design and build a city with adequate amenities and a good quality of life. The healthy city demands an entirely different mindset. It demands the realisation that we must design, build and use our urban space differently. Why, for example, do we still hold on to covered car parks in inner city areas? If there is a place to park, people will continue to use it, even if they have to drive through the city to get to it. From a technical standpoint, there are plenty of alternatives that will promote sustainable urban mobility, from fast-track cycle paths to cable cars. As an engineer, I want to help society realise that there are many options which can help to create the healthy city.

This will take time. Meanwhile, I am following developments and trying to play my part, not only through my work but by leaving my car at home more often. Hopefully, future generations will then be able to enjoy a run through a truly healthy city.

Wim van den Berg
Manager Witteveen+Bos Breda

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