It’s our right: Healthy Streets opens our eyes

You know that feeling when something gives you a completely new perspective on familiar things? And all of a sudden you start saying “Wow that makes so much sense” and “why don’t we do it like that?” Some genuinely revolutionary ideas came to New Zealand this month and we hope they’ll make waves.

Transport for London – London’s version of the NZ Transport Agency, responsible for most of London’s transport – is a pretty significant beast (32,000 employees and £10.2 billion (yes, billion) annual budget). And this mammoth organisation is slowly turning its operations right around, reorienting their spending in a “crazy” new way.

What’s new? They’re starting to put people – i.e. flesh-and-blood Londoners and visitors – at the heart of how they shape and run the city’s streets and transport. Just recently the Mayor doubled down on this people-centric approach.

But hold on, you ask – what was at the heart of it all before?

Actually this is the crazy bit: at the heart of it all was moving vehicles.

So London’s changing. It’s taking a long time, because habits are hard to break and institutions’ habits are hardest of all. But already it’s having startling results – leaps in people’s healthiness, in satisfaction with their city, in local commerce.

There’s a way of thinking behind this quiet revolution. It’s called “Healthy Streets“. And the woman behind Healthy Streets, Lucy Saunders, has just finished a few weeks in NZ, brought over by the organisers of the “2WALKandCYCLE” conference, and has been hard at work speaking with eager audiences of people who shape our towns’ streets and roads.

Why’s this stuff worth a look?

A self-confessed “massive geek”, Lucy Saunders is also a really engaging speaker, an easy listen and often really funny. She manages to bring to life topics that are normally either worthy and a bit dull (the sugar-free bran muffin of city discourse) or plain depressing (Vision Zero – so.much.death.and.maiming). And she unpacks the geeky realms of transport and roading engineering and urban design into language everyone can understand – but which also speaks to the professional priesthoods who control what happens on our streets.

After listening to this stuff you not only look at your streets with fresh and sharper eyes, you feel really positive and empowered about how to make our streets work better for us, the humans, the people who own them. It makes you look at the street – like below – but also at the connections, the options and choices it offers real people to get from A to B in everyday life.

one way a healthy streets approach manifests: before and after

Talk Wellington have looked in some detail at Healthy Streets and suffice to say we’re big fans. It’s nothing inherently new, but it’s revolutionary for a few reasons:

  • It’s specifically designed so real life councils and government bodies, with all their weaknesses and strengths, can actually use it and can hold themselves to account for progress (and be held to account)
  • It’s based on overarching, underpinning values that everyone wants – genuinely better quality of life (crazy, right?) – and this foundation means real life communities can get on board, and even pressure their councils into doing right
  • It’s elegantly simple, yet comprehensive, with the right stuff being measured (at last, “measure what matters”!)
  • It’s the most refreshingly positive and humanist approach to streets that we’ve come across

It sounds like we’ve drunk some coolade, but from our perspective all NZ towns should be making like London, and using a paradigm like this so our streets give us the quality of life we deserve. We’re hoping to see this kind of progressive approach manifesting in citywide initiatives like Let’s Get Wellington Moving, but also at suburb, neighbourhood, school catchment and street scales.

Have a look and a listen

We’ll be writing more on this but in the meantime, here’s a summary of some interesting, digestible interviews and talks she’s done in her time here:

For fun, have a look at the Guide [PDF] and try some of the basic questions on a street you know. How do you think it rates?

What would you add to the 10 Healthy Streets indicators to make them better for Aotearoa?

One comment on “It’s our right: Healthy Streets opens our eyes”

  • Alex dyer says:

    At her talk in Wellington I asked if there were also measures about economic health of the streets improved. She responded there was good evidence of increased retail activity where shops are on healthy streets, and where shops see one/some retailers benefiting from greater patronage – others are quick to support. While not a human health metric per se, I would add healthier back pockets and local businesses as another powerful reason to take this approach.

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