Urban sustainability – cities are the future

Urban sustainability – cities are the future


At the Sustainable Cities Global Ideas Lab held in October, Professor Robert McGauran of MGS Architects provided a detailed and thought-provoking overview of many of the trends linking city development and urban formation to population health. Using Fisherman’s Bend as a case study, Lab participants brainstormed issues and opportunities for building population health and wellbeing into this massive 450-hectare development. The evening concluded with a presentation on the UN Sustainable Development Goals by Mr Siamak Sam Loni, the Global Coordinator of SDSN Youth from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Sam made it clear that the work done in Victoria has global relevance, and that we need to be considering global issues and trends whenever we think about local environments.


Below are some insights from Dr Iain Butterworth. Iain works as a policy researcher and consultant with the state government, and he’s taken some time to look at the links between this Lab and his work in the sector.


“A strong link exists between the built environment, health and wellbeing” Environments for Health, Victorian municipal public health planning framework (2001).


The urban form DOES influence our behaviour


Since 2001, health policy researchers and advocates have made strong advances to demonstrate the impact that urban development has on wellbeing. In the How Liveable is Melbourne? report, the environment-community-person-behaviour-health relationship has been investigated extensively and mapped for the liveability domains of transport, walkability, housing, employment, public open space, food, and social infrastructure.



Figure 1 Transport liveability domain (Badland, Roberts, Butterworth & Billie Giles-Corti, 2015)




Figure 2 Social Infrastructure liveability domain (Badland, Roberts, Butterworth & Billie Giles-Corti, 2015)


This work has influenced the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2015-2019 which places a strong emphasis on place as a determinant of health.


Liveability refers to the degree to which communities are safe, attractive, environmentally stable and socially cohesive and inclusive. This requires affordable and diverse housing, convenient public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure, access to education and employment, public open space, local shops, health and community services, and leisure and cultural opportunities (Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2015-2019 p. 46)


legislation must protect and promote health and wellbeing


The Victorian Planning and Environment Act does not require any proposed development to demonstrate that it will be either benign or beneficial to population health. NGOs and researchers, including the Planning Institute of Australia, National Heart Foundation, VicHealth and the McCaughey Centre are keenly aware that advocacy is required to embed health and social impact assessment as a core requirement of the Act. In addition, advocates need to challenge the view of some VCAT adjudicators that local evidence is required to demonstrate a causal link between a proposed development (such as an additional liquor outlet in a neighbourhood) and poor local social outcomes.


Governance and planning


Population health can often be measured by the quality and level of governance of a country, in terms of the systems and decision-making that goes into developing a region and health of the population. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Healthy Cities program takes a systematic approach to urban governance and community development, based on the recognition that city and urban environments affect citizens’ health, and that healthy municipal public policy is needed to effect change.


Take aways from this Lab


Prof Jeffrey Sachs from UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) recently provided a keynote speech about sustainable development, noting that cities need to be goal based and the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are the most important. Important factors for development include; action learning, technology, innovative waste management strategies, developing ‘walkable cities’ such as pre- automobile cities – see Jane Jacobs, the development of zero carbon electric cities, share economies and a resilient infrastructure for climate change.


We need a knowledge-based approach to human wellbeing “above all, we need a politics of respect for knowledge” Prof Jeffrey Sachs.  “we need an interface between citizens, the knowledge community and the policy community”.


One way to engage researchers, citizens, practitioners and stakeholders inside and outside of health is through the  Collective Impact framework. A multidisciplinary approach is essential to build truly healthy, liveable, sustainable and resilient communities, and Global Ideas can be  the platform to be part of the solution.


To find out more about Dr Iain Butterworth, the author of this blog article, visit his LinkedIn profile or attend his upcoming event, a symposium on Collaborative leadership and action for community wellbeing.