Australian pilot study finds a Healthy Urban Transition Tool can assess the liveability of urban environments and assist in transitioning neighborhoods towards improving the social determinants of health and health equity.

For the attention of: Urban and town planners, Public Health officials, Infrastructure planners, Community and social planners

The problem: Many checklists have been formulated and used to measure walkability and/or liveability. These checklists often use GIS measurable data such as street permeability, mixes of uses and density. However, this means that they do not include qualitative aspects of pedestrian infrastructure and the design, complexity, and maintenance of the public realm. These qualitative aspects are known to impact walkability, accessibility, and social connectedness.

What we did and why: This article reports on the findings of a pilot study of the healthy urban transition tool (HUNTT) which assessed liveability determinants commonly associated with health enhancing walkability, accessibility, and social inclusion in 22 Adelaide neighbourhoods. The pilot study was undertaken to ascertain the steps necessary to begin a liveability transition in established suburbs in order to improve health and health equity.

What our study adds: Our research shows that there are strengths, but also significant liveability weakness related to walkability and accessibility in Adelaide’s suburbs. It shows weaknesses are more common in lower socio-economic status suburbs, and therefore are contributing to the inequities in the city. A common and significant barrier in most suburbs is the motor vehicle orientation of streets. This has made many streets and most arterial roads at best uncomfortable and at worst hostile to pedestrians, cyclists and public life.

Implications for city policy and practice: A liveability transition planned and managed to address weaknesses in a coordinated manner would have major benefits for health and health equity. The pathway of improvement is through increased levels of physical activity, local social connectedness and improved self-reliant access to local destinations. In many suburbs substantial changes would be needed which will require significant funding, plus coordination between private and public stakeholders, and direct intervention from state and local governments. Although, the financial cost of such a transition would be high, it has the potential to result in cost savings to health and welfare budgets.

Full research article: Liveability transitioning: results of a pilot study of walking, accessibility, and social connection strengths weaknesses in established suburbs in Adelaide by Michael McGreevy, Connie Musolino and Fran Baum.