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Sport and development in urban planning: Bridging a gap


Sport and development in urban planning: Bridging a gap

Around the world, cities and grassroots sport and urban organisations are working together to create sustainable solutions for healthy and active cities.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report revealed very concerning findings on the impact of global warming and more countries and sectors should consider what they can do to make a difference.

Sport and development focuses on many key areas such as economic development, health and education. Sport has power; it can serve as an engine to drive change, and it can also be a product of change. Sport in an urban setting has set up space for action sports like parkour; urban settings have also led the way for providing space for physical activities such as cycling, walking and running.

Safe urban settings and designated areas for physical activities that value the person over the vehicle, encourage more people to be outside, foster community pride, and promote more activities and sustainable jobs. People are safer in urban spaces that are actually used; busy parks for example are safer than empty parks.

There is a lot of potential for collaboration between cities and grassroots sports and urban organisations to work together to make a lasting difference in their communities.

Urban renewal led by the grassroots
The most successful examples of urban gentrification involve “recycling” public space in a manner that promotes healthy physical activity while stimulating growth and reducing crime in at-risk neighbourhoods.

A grassroots led neighbourhood community known as “ Friends of the High Line” in New York led changes where a former rail-line ended up being converted into a one mile long walkway known as the High Line.

The High Line, a relic of the past, has now become a popular place for runners and walkers. The effect on the neighbourhood is exemplary: the violent crime rate in the area dropped drastically since its redevelopment.

Similar initiatives exist in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, San Sebastian and Helsinki. In Paris a key debate in the last mayoral election focused on how abandoned metro stations would be used, many favouring suggestions of a swimming pool.

Case study: Bogota
Bogota, a city that was the most violent and least liveable in South America, knew something had to change. Local politicians led this change by making life easier for the poor who tend to be cyclists and pedestrians rather than drivers.

The change started with prioritisation of pedestrians. Rather than building elevated highways which cost billions, mere millions were invested into bus highways, pavements and bike lanes in hard to reach neighbourhood. This way pedestrians can finally walk in their city. The city has respected someone who rides a $30 bike as much as someone who drives a $30 000 car.

The results: in as little as ten years Bogota slashed its murder rate by 70%. Children feel safe playing in parks and on the streets. There are fewer pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Traffic improved and millions are on bikes. Pollution and smog are being reduced. Since the changes, people in Bogota have started feeling happier, more included and more proud of their city since the changes.

Easing urban growing pains
Many cities across the world are suffering from growing pains. Sport and development programmes are hindered by lack of space and access to poorer neighbourhoods. Smog and crime leave many indoors. People are at risk of becoming inactive. 

As more than half of the world's population now lives in cities, there is a need to lead change, to work with cities, to place emphasis on parks and bicycles. Re-thinking transportation can solve some problems; recycling space can solve others. One thing is certain: such changes will help minimalise climate change, and will get people active in larger numbers than ever anticipated.


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Pia Grochowski


Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - 23:00