Parks, sports, affordable medicine: components of ‘healthy cities’

July 4
City administration

The 10th anniversary Moscow Urban Forum (MUF) will open in Moscow on July 1. One of its main topics is devoted to the transformation of the city caused by various factors, including the pandemic. The plenary session of the second International Congress for Urban Health, which will be held within the framework of the forum, will be devoted to effective solutions during the fight against COVID-19. One of its participants is David Vlahov, an American epidemiologist, Founding President of the International Society for Urban Health (ISUH), professor at the Yale School of Nursing and the Yale School of Public Health. On the eve of the MUF start, the expert told what affects the health of megapolises dwellers and how to create the most favorable urban environment. In his opinion, the ‘healthy city’ concept is no longer limited to high-quality and affordable medicine - it includes safe milieu, good ecology, sports, and much more.

David Vlahov, Founding President of the International Society for Urban Health (ISUH), professor at the Yale School of Nursing and the Yale School of Public Health

- Mr. Vlahov, what is a ‘healthy megapolis’ and what its key features you can emphasis?

- Many things should be provided in a ‘healthy city’ - a clean and safe environment of high quality, including high-quality housing, a stable ecosystem, people's access to a wide range of experience and resources, a diverse and innovative economy, an optimal level of public health services and patronage services available to everyone.

It is also important to have a strong mutually supportive community. We can also note the high degree of participation of citizens in making decisions that impact their life, health and well-being, as well as monitoring the implementation of these decisions.

- What, in your opinion, should be developed in large cities so that they can be called ‘healthy’?

- A particularly important problem for large cities is the provision of high-quality, inexpensive, patient-oriented medical care. It is also worth increasing the number of health promotion activities.

In general, in order to achieve the best results in the development of a variety of programs, the city government, including city planners, should work in contact with local communities. Projects and events are most effective when targeted residents take part in them.

- How can the urban milieu motivate the residents of the metropolis to keep a healthy lifestyle?

- The physical, social and resource environment affects the behavior and health of people. For example, air quality is a part of the physical environment, and some of the methods by which we strive to improve it are to use energy more efficiently. And also in terms of public transport and active types of mobility, such as cycling or walking. In some cities, fast buses run along dedicated lanes or a fee has been introduced for using congested roads to reduce air pollution.

We also pay attention to the housing development, how we design a safe space for people to use active types of transporting when the weather allows. To do this, you need to create pedestrian and bicycle paths, it is also useful to build mixed-use buildings, that is, with shops and cafes on the ground and housing on the upper floors. This contributes to a sense of comfortable scale and increases the sense of security and community.

The developed and social environment provides an opportunity to interact, communicate and share ideas for improving their districts. Such an idea, for example, may be the creation of a park nearby. Such recreation areas become important places for meetings, sports, recreation, and enjoying nature. 

As for the resource environment, the question is how accessible medical and social services, as well as cultural events and sports activities from the point of view of their diversity, cost and distance to their venues.

- In Moscow today, not only large parks, but also small garden squares are being actively developed in every district. This work is often carried out jointly with the residents. How important is this, in your opinion?

- As a rule, the parks that were created together with the residents, taking into account their wishes, are most liked. Then people have a sense of belonging. If you design and build parks taking into account the opinion of residents, then such spaces will be popular.

If there are more squares and parks in each district, it will make the city a healthier place to live. There are more than 1,700 parks in New York, where I live, and additional efforts are being made to develop them. Sometimes the space around is very limited, but city planners and local residents are working to turn it into a recreation area. An example is the parking lot near the school, which has become a small park. It is important not only to have parks, but also to be able to get to them with profit to health: walking or by bicycle.

- We have Healthy Moscow pavilions in many parks, where residents can check their health for free. If a problem is detected, the person receives a specialty referral. Now the pavilions are open only for vaccination of residents against coronavirus. How do you assess the opportunity to check your health in parks?

- The opportunity to periodically undergo a medical examination is an interesting idea. Since people are different all over the world, I would be interested to first see how much residents want to use such a service. Perhaps it is not only about checking physical health, but also about the opportunity to talk to someone, especially if the person feels lonely. At the same time, I think it is especially important that after the examination, a person can immediately get a referral to specialized doctors.

- On weekends, free lectures on a healthy lifestyle and sports classes are held in Moscow parks. How popular is it in other big cities?

- For parks to be in demand, they must be something more than trees and benches. It is very important to conduct classes in them to promote a healthy lifestyle. In addition, collective events, whether they are dances, chess clubs or concerts, contribute to the communication of citizens.

Playgrounds can be an ‘anchor’ for the park to become a center for holding public meetings, to strengthen the cohesion of residents. If there are sports grounds (basketball, football fields), this is also very good. Organizing local teams creates a community that is important for a collective sense of well-being.

- Is it possible to make sports and physical activity fashionable among completely different people?

- The point is to offer different types of physical activity to different people. For example, for persons of riper years like me, it is important to keep fit, but we need to choose the appropriate activity. For example, walking is one of the healthiest activities that are suitable for the persons of riper years, swimming is also wonderful.

- In recent years, about 140 large sports facilities have been built in the capital: swimming pools, ice arenas, football fields. How important is the sports infrastructure for the health of the city's residents?

- If sports facilities are conveniently located, and services are affordable, this creates a lot of opportunities for sports. Activity improves the overall condition, strengthens the cardiovascular system and, consequently, improves the quality of life and just makes people feel good.

It is worth noting that when creating such sports facilities, you need to think not only about children and young people, but also about the fact that they can be visited by elderly citizens. If such sports complexes are accessible to everyone, more people will visit them.

The world's largest urban congress Moscow Urban Forum 2021 with the participation of foreign speakers will be held in a hybrid format in compliance with sanitary requirements. It will be held from July 1 to 4 at the Zaryadye Concert Hall. The lectures of the star speakers, discussions and round tables held in Zaryadye will be broadcast by the organizers on the forum's website.

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