2 mins

How can the urban environment become a health generator?

Emmanuel Moulin

TThe COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably changed our priorities, health standards and lifestyles. As a public health crisis, not only has it affected our fellow citizens or cost them their lives, but also it has had an impact on every dimension of public life, from the economy to social inclusion. To adapt to this new reality and slow down the propagation of the virus, EU cities have beentaking complementary mesures to national government directives.

Among them, nine cities (Vic in Spain, Parnu in Estonia, Falerna in Italy, Anyksciai in Lithuania, the south-east region of Malta, Alphen aan den Rijn in the Netherlands, Loulé in Portugal, Farkadona in Greece and Bradford in the UK) gathered under the 'Healthy Cities' network supported by URBACT. Created in 2019, this network aims to foster the wellbeing of citizens by improving the urban environment (green spaces, infrastructure, mobility structures and public spaces in general). The COVID-19 pandemic hasaccelerated the network's plans and has caused it to take immediate integrated actions.

To support local commerce, the network has developed digital platforms for local businesses so that they can advertise and sell their products; to support the population in need, it has been distributing food for free; and to fight against a sedentary lifestyle, it has been creating/extending bike lanes and walking or jogging spaces (Alphen aan den Rijn, Anyksiai, Loulé, Vic), organising outdoor gyms (Farkadona) and upgrading green spaces (Anyksciai, Malta, Pärnu).

From the outbreak of the pandemic to September 2020, Loulé, a town of 70,000 inhabitants in the south of Portugal, spent more than EUR 4 million in its battle against COVID-19. Together with providing citizens with daily communications, supporting local commerce and people in need, and providing bikes to school students, Loulé also put in place different measures against asedentary lifestyle. The city createdroutes so that citizens-depending on their physical condition and which activity they prefer - couldwalk, run or pedal safelywhile respecting physical distancing.The city also created an 'Online Sports Training Plan'so that people couldaccess online training credited by the Portuguese Institute of Sport and Youth. To complement this, in partnership with the Algarve Cancer Association (AOA), the city organised a 'Virtual Sports Event' in October 2020 that challenged the population to run, pedal, swim or climb the stairs, at home or outdoors, on an appropriate day and at an appropriate time. Loulé also made available10 video lessons with a set of recommendationson how to stay active at home.

Healthy Cities network aims to foster the wellbeing of citizens by improving the urban environment

Vic, a town of 45,000 inhabitants in Catalonia, increased the number of pedestrian areas and set speed limits for cars in its effort to promote active mobility. Pavements and cycle lanes were extended and better connected. Free guided physical activities in open spaces are being organised regularly. Vic also put in place a free door-to-door delivery service with the help of a social enterprise ?a service that has been so well received by citizens that it has continued since the end of the confinement. During the pandemic, the city has subsidised some commerce and has reduced municipal taxes.

It is with such creativity, persistence and citizen engagement that EU cities can make our lives easier and improve them during the pandemic. URBACT will continue helping these cities/regions by providing useful resources and good practices on its website (www.urbact.eu).

This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL