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Belfast Healthy Cities

Our vision is to be a leader in creating
a healthy, equitable and sustainable city

Healthy Cities 21st Century

Healthy Places Events and Training

Walkability

A healthy city is a city that promotes connectedness, where people of all ages feel safe, have easy access to services, open and green space and that enables active engagement in society for all its citizens. Communities designed with people at the centre contribute to health and equity as well as the environment and the economy. Accessible public spaces encourage people to spend time outdoors in their communities and build social networks, which is a key prerequisite for active travel. Neighbourhoods that support walking and encourage social interaction also support local business and can encourage investment as well as contribute to property values. Walkable neighbourhoods create supportive and healthy places for people of all ages to work, live and play.

The Walkability Assessment for Healthy Ageing (WAHA) tool was developed by Belfast Healthy Cities and was inspired by World Health Organization (WHO) Checklist of essential features for age-friendly cities[1]. It has been piloted with over 200 older people, including people in supported housing with early stage dementia, community based walking groups and seniors fora.[2]

The Community Active Travel initiative, is a three-year project aimed at encouraging communities in Belfast to travel more actively, both for transport and leisure purposes. The project is funded by the Public Health Agency and delivered in partnership with Sustrans. Walkability assessments of twelve communities across Belfast are being conducted to provide a baseline insight into the community’s perceptions regarding walking and walkability in the local neighbourhood. Its intended outcomes are to increase knowledge and evidence of the assets and challenges to walking in the participating communities and extrapolate the key issues that are relevant across the city so that walkability can be approved for all. The approach is also intended to give local residents an opportunity to share their views and ideas on their neighbourhood environment and inform consultations on local masterplan developments.

The findings from the walkability assessments are collated in reports and are ultimately intended to inform a set of recommendations to improve the walkability of neighbourhoods and to identify options and core partners for implementation of the formulated recommendations. The reports set out the key findings from a questionnaire and semi-structured group discussion and includes photographic evidence of the issues raised. They also provide recommendations for improving the walking environment in the assessed area. Reports of completed walkability assessments can be found here.

 

Place Standard

The Place Standard is a tool developed jointly by the Scottish Government, NHS Health Scotland and Architecture & Design Scotland to support inclusive decision making and community engagement on place. The Place Standard Tool can promote the links between good quality living environment and better health outcomes. The focus of the tool is seeking the views of local people on the quality of their living environment and how this could be affected by a range of policies that are relevant to spatial planning, physical and social regeneration. The findings from the tool can be used to inform decision making at policy as well as operational level, and the tool can also be used to increase mutual understanding between policymakers and local communities. The Tool has been used by a number of European countries following pilot projects in Scotland. Initial evaluation indicates that the tool has contributed to improving relationships between communities and statutory agencies, and has also contributed to a clearer understanding of local needs and priorities that local authorities have found helpful.

Belfast Healthy Cities aim to promote the use of the Scottish Place Standard Tool by communities in Norther Ireland. As part of this effort, a training workshop that aimed to inform policymakers, communities and other stakeholders about the background and objectives of the Place Standard Tool was held in May 2018. As part of the event, the practicality of the Tool was tested by a range of policymakers and community representatives by conducting an assessment based on fourteen place related themes of several localities in Belfast. We offer assistance to any community that seeks to use the Tool for assessing their local built environment, whether it be for general community development purposes or for assisting communities to submit informed consultation responses to spatial developments within their locality.

Care Zone

The Care Zone was established as a community development pilot resulting from a Future Search workshop titled ‘Building Hope: Working Together to Prevent Suicide’. The purpose of this workshop was to bring together representatives from various statutory and third sector organisations to bolster suicide prevention strategies within Belfast. The CareZone project is based upon a community development model that seeks to support local residents to overcome health inequalities, with the longer term aim of reducing suicide. This approach favours cohesive ways of working between partners including the active involvement of local residents and local community groups in order to empower them and to build capacity to support them to take action to increase ‘hope’ and care in the area. Community input was sought in order to help CareZone partners identify the needs of local communities and to begin to develop and negotiate partnerships and resources to meet these needs. The lessons learned from the application of the CareZone model are intended to be carried forward to other areas in Belfast.

Belfast Healthy Cities supported the CareZone pilot by producing a compressive health profile of the area that highlights the key health inequalities between local residents and the wider Belfast and Northern Ireland populations. We also assisted in the drawing up of the final report that sets out the key findings and action plan.

Capacity Building 

Healthy Places, Healthy People seminar series

The Healthy Places, Healthy People seminar series in November 2016 focused on supporting community level professionals to engage effectively with the Local Development Plan process. It included five half day seminars on the following themes:

Reuniting Planning and Health

This high level conference in 2014 highlighted leading edge practice on creating people friendly environments globally and in Northern Ireland. The keynote speaker was Riccardo Marini from Gehl Architects. Further details can be found here.

Consultation responses

Belfast Healthy Cities regularly responds to public consultations of key policy documents impacting on the health and well being of the wider population. Examples of such consultation responses include the Belfast Local Development Plan Strategy, the Air Quality Action Plan and the Belfast City Improvement objectives. We use a range of tools available to us to inform our responses e.g. Place Standard Tool, Walkability Assessments and the BHC Health Equity tool.

Evidence

Where we live, and the conditions in which we live, has a significant impact on our health and well-being. Access to high quality housing in safe neighbourhoods, green spaces, strong communities and good transport systems all contribute to positive health and well-being. In an urban environment, spatial planning and good urban design can help improve health outcomes in significant ways, including:

  • reducing exposure to hazards through controlling traffic, pollution and noise;
  • supporting mental and emotional well-being by creating liveable environments that encourage social contact and cohesion
  • improving access to jobs, education and services by promoting mixed use neighbourhoods
  • encouraging physical activity by strengthening connectivity on foot and bike and safeguarding green space

1. Healthy urban environments can also help tackle place inequalities in health

2. Overall, there is a link between the built environment, health inequalities and health outcomes. The rise in diseases associated with inactive lifestyles, including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and respiratory problems are strongly linked to where and how we live. Differential access to good housing, employment, education and training, open space and affordable, nutritious food is a key element of health inequalities between areas and population groups. People from the most disadvantaged groups are more likely to be subject to an ‘obesogenic’ environment which discourages walking and cycling, perceiving their neighbourhoods to be busier with traffic, less attractive, and less supportive of walking.

3. They also often disproportionately bear the impacts of car-dominated urban planning practice.