20th December 2017

Connecting Places for a Happy and Healthy 2018

Our Associate Director Leah Stuart was asked to contribute a piece to Place North West looking forward to 2018. Here she explores the importance of connecting places and transforming our streets to bring a healthier and happier 2018. You can also read this article here

There has been a lot of news recently about the dangers of air pollution. Of course, this is a significant cause of ill health and early death and as a society, we must try and combat this growing problem. A bigger threat to our health, however, is inactivity. Sure, it’s cold and dark outside in December and you want to snuggle up in front of the fire, but even in winter, you can step out into our NorthWest city centres and there is a box of delights available. In Manchester, Mackie Mayor is one example: vibrant, exciting, beautiful, on-trend; At Civic Engineers, we are delighted to have engineered this inspirational re-use of a long-derelict building.

Many people, however, won’t leave their homes and definitely won’t make it as far as Mackie Mayor. Our streets are simply not inviting places. We have prioritised the motor car and marginalised walking and cycling. Some people, who are isolated due to low income, disability, ill health or old age, need considerable courage to venture out onto our streets. We need to make our public realm more connected and welcoming to people of all ages and abilities.

A connected city is vital and with it come huge economic, social and environmental benefits. We are currently working in Glasgow to bring active travel to the forefront of the city’s streets, as part of a £115m project to transform the city centre, putting people at its heart. Glasgow City Council see clear benefits in this approach: walking and cycling improves mental and physical health; busy streets strengthen communities, support businesses and reduce social isolation. It’s become clear that our designs need to focus on people who are sometimes forgotten, so we will be thinking about not just the lycra-clad speedy cyclists, but also disabled cyclists, families and cargo bikes. If we can make our streets enjoyable and functional for these people, they will work for everyone, and the economic and social benefits will follow.

This is not just speculation: we have first-hand experience from our work in Altrincham town centre, where we have been instrumental in designing and delivering an improved public realm.  There are measurable benefits from a more attractive and inclusive space: a 20% year-on-year increase in footfall has lead to 24 new businesses in the town centre, around 90 new jobs and a reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour.

Manchester as a whole still has work to do, but things are looking promising. Although cycling currently represents just 2% of all journeys, TfGM are aiming for this to increase this to 10% by 2025. And it seems there is appetite for change: a recent survey by Sustrans found that 77% of Greater Manchester Residents are in favour of more segregated cycle lanes, even if this means less space for traffic. With a budget of £42m announced to invest in cycling, our own dedicated Cycling and Walking Commissioner and a Green Infrastructure Summit planned for Spring, there is a fantastic opportunity to look at the city as a whole and facilitate active travel for everyone.

And with more people getting their 10,000 steps and their 150 minutes of exercise a week, even in the city centre, we will all have a happier and healthier 2018.

Leah Stuart - Associate Director