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Urban design 'makes people fat'

Health and wellbeing must be at the top of the town planning agenda in the future, a leading academic has warned

Newcastle University’s director of planning and urban design Tim Townshend said future developments must redress the balance and encourage people to walk rather than drive in order to reverse the UK’s growing obesity trend.

Townshend, who has co-edited a book examining the effects of low density, car-orientated suburbs in the US and Australia and their effects on locals’ health, said the well-being of local residents must be put in the forefront of town planners minds ‘before it’s too late’.

‘Our urban landscape is full of shopping malls and fast food restaurants, escalators and huge car parks with people battling to get the space closest to the doors so they don’t have to walk very far,’ he said.

‘These environments are simply not designed for people to walk around in. We need to think seriously about what kind of environment we are creating for ourselves and have a sensible debate about what’s acceptable and what’s not in our towns and cities.

‘Health needs to be back on the town planning agenda before it’s too late.’

Townshend said more green spaces, less graffiti and improved public transport links would all go some way to stemming the obesity epidemic.

‘We need to provide more green spaces - how many new parks do we build? Obesity is the biggest social and health problem we face and it will take a holistic approach to create new, healthier neighbourhoods with health professionals working alongside planners, designers and policy makers,’ he said.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Great headline for this article - well done! Doesn't misinterpret the point at all.

    Given the current economic and political situation affecting all professions engaged in urbanism, wouldn't it be a sensible idea for the go-to architectural publication to get 'on message' that good design, and good designers improve economic, social and environmental conditions and it is in fact bad design that undermines this truism

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  • This article completely discounts the needs of genuinely disabled people who can not walk but still wish to get out and about. Obesity is caused by taking in more energy than is expended so exercise is good but each person’s level of exercise should be dependant on their physical ability. A pleasant environment encourages people to get out and be active but designers need to be careful they are not discounting the needs of disabled people and an aging population who might not be able to walk far but still want to exercise appropriately.

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  • I assume that the article is somewhat selective, but it is surely misdirected. Bad urban design or rather a lack of urban design at all is part, but only part, of the problem. The real issue isn’t development. For example, we have seen a resurgence in parks new and old over the last decade, yet we are fatter. Provision isn't enough. The lack of freedom for kids to play outdoors, whether real or perceived needs to be addressed. The ‘fear’ of the public realm, too much ‘bad’ fat, a lack of exercise and ignorance are to blame. The built environment is the scene for life. Why not ban internet shopping as it stops people getting of their bums to actually walk around a supermarket or shopping mall even if they drive their. A balanced argument please.

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