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Unlock the key to health and happiness by building Garden Cities

Thursday 21st February 2013

The Garden City principles hold the key to delivering healthy and vibrant places for people to live and work, argues leading housing and planning charity, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) , with the launch of a republication of Norman Macfayden’s seminal pamphlet, Health and Garden Cities’, first published in 1940.

Giving a lecture on the ‘Opportunities for 21st century Garden Cities and Suburbs’ at the University of Liverpool today, Kate Henderson, TCPA Chief Executive, said:

“It is over 70 years since the TCPA originally published Macfayden’s pamphlet on ‘Health and Garden Cities’ and yet it could have been written today as the Government embarks on both a reform of public health and a new generation of Garden Cities and Suburbs.”

“Garden City planning has made a significant contribution to improving the quality of life of ordinary people, providing an unparalleled improvement on what had come before. What the pioneers of Garden City movement understood was that planning was not just focused on bricks and mortar; it was about creating the conditions for people to live differently, addressing social isolation and founded on a co-operative ethos.”

Over the last century Garden City ideals have proven to be outstandingly durable. Places like Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities and Hampstead Garden Suburb have stood the test of time and remain highly desirable as places in which to live today.

The TCPA has been leading a campaign that aims to shows that Garden Cities are not only beautiful places, but also offer high-quality lifestyles that promote wellbeing; a wide range of employment opportunities and cultural services; a complete mix of housing, including social and affordable housing; walkable neighbourhoods, tree-lined streets and high-quality design; vibrant parks; and opportunities for residents to grow their own food – while also promoting access to nature and opportunities for biodiversity. In short, the Association believes that they provide all the essential ingredients of a healthy community.

Planning and public health

The planning system has its roots in the public health movement. Improved planning and better housing have long been identified as essential for improving the health of communities, reducing health inequalities and cutting costs for the taxpayer.

As Macfayden’s paper highlights, having easy access to high-quality parks and gardens improves mental health and levels of physical activity. Although many of the diseases quoted in the paper are no longer as common in the UK today as they were 70 years ago, the country is plagued by new diseases such as obesity – rates of which have tripled in the UK since the 1980s. It does, however, remain the case that very often people living in the most deprived parts of England have less access to green space. In general they also experience the worst air quality, and are more likely to suffer from cardiorespiratory diseases.

Writing over 70 years ago, Norman Macfayden’s words still resonate today:

“We are all today eager to improve the health of the people, and are not content with the state in which the mass of the population live. It is true that a fortunate minority are growing up fine, strong, and athletic men and women, but it is also true that, in spite of all the immense work done under the National Health Insurance Schemes and by Health Authorities, the volume of disease does not diminish, though the character of it may change.”

Despite planning’s roots, over recent decades planning as a discipline has had little formal contact with public health. Different workplace cultures, professional languages and reporting regimes have helped to exacerbate this divide. However, the Government hopes this is about to change through widespread reforms to both the planning and health sectors, including a new public health responsibility for local authorities and a requirement on planners to work with public health organisations.

Kate Henderson added:

“The decisions we make about the built environment cannot be easily undone and in an era of budget cuts the TCPA is arguing that it is more important than ever that we put public health back at the heart of planning, with better co-operation between planners and public health staff aimed at identifying these kinds of local health needs – and at finding ways to tackle them. The creation of 21st-century Garden Cities and Suburbs may well be one such way.”

The TCPA has re-published this pamphlet along with a new introduction as part of its ongoing campaign to remake the case for 21st century Garden Cities.  The Association is also actively involved in the reuniting health and planning agenda, having published the handbook, Reuniting health with planning: healthier homes, healthier communities’  in 2012 and is currently working on further research into planning for healthier communities.

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