Cities that build for walking and cycling are healthier, happier and richer

New research from the University of California claims that cities with physically active populations are not only more economically competitive they also benefit from increased productivity, improved school performance, higher property values, and improved health and wellbeing.

Studies on the economic benefits of walking and cycling interventions revealed an average return of £13 on every £1 invested. In the UK, the return is as high as £19 for every £1 invested. People feel good about living in an active city. In a US study, 9 in 10 people said that cycling events make them look more positively on their city.

Chad Spoon, part of the research team at Active Living Research, University of California, said: “We hope this research will open the eyes of government leaders to the many important benefits of designing cities to support active living. This includes economic benefits such as increased home value, greater retail activity, reduced health care costs, and improved productivity. A city’s ability to compete depends on an active population. The research is clear on this – it shows how an active city can be a low-cost, high-return investment.”

The Active Cities report, created by Nike in partnership with academics, non-profit organisations and built-environment specialists, also identified nine cities from around the world that have successfully embedded physical activity into their core strategies, including Bristol from the UK. The cities are all embracing the four ‘calls to action’ described in the Active Cities report: they prioritise physical activity, use existing resources, design for people to be active and plan for movement for the long-term.

The cities featured in the report are Hernando, USA; Buenos Aires; New York City; Copenhagen; Rio de Janeiro; Medellin, Colombia; Red Deer, Canada; Bristol; and Adelaide.

The report will be discussed today at a summit taking place in Bristol. Speakers from KPMG, the University of California, and the CBI, alongside Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson, will call on city leaders to make physical activity a priority and recognise the positive economic and social benefits that it can bring.

The summit is hosted by Sustrans, Bristol 2015 European Green Capital and Nike.

The summit brings together leading experts in the field to identify the legislative and policy changes needed to make active cities across the globe a reality. Attendees at the summit include local government leaders, and national and international experts in the creation of active cities from the worlds of health, planning and business.

George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, commenting on the work that has been happening in his city, said: “This new research highlights how vitally important it is to promote walking and cycling for shorter journeys in and around the city. Not just for environmental and health reasons, but because it will make Bristol a more successful and happy place to live and work.

“European cities that make it easier for people to travel by bike or on foot have proved to be more economically competitive and offer a better quality of life for their residents.

“Many in Bristol have long recognised this benefit and have been working to make sure our city is as accessible to walkers and cyclists as possible. We already have more people commuting to work by bicycle or on foot than any other city in England and expect to see this increase even further.

“By encouraging more people to walk and cycle around the city we can make this city a healthier, happier and more attractive place to live.”

Mandy Ayres, Senior Director for Global Community Impact at Nike, said: “Modern life has engineered movement out of our daily routine, and we need a collaboration from government, employers, civil society and individuals to bring physical activity back to the places we work, live, learn and play. Creating the right physical environment to give everyone a chance to get active won’t just make citizens feel better – it creates a competitive advantage for a city.”

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