How Urban Design and Infrastructure Affects Public Health and Dignity

Poor infrastructure can have powerful impacts on how different groups access resources and experience the public realm.

July 26, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Snow Removal

Tony Webster / Flickr

A panel of experts at the Shared Mobility Summit examined how poor infrastructure affects public health and dignity, reports Jeff McMahon. Neuroscientist Robin Mazumber pointed to hardships endured by the elderly and mentally ill: "[Poor infrastructure] caused loneliness. It contributed to a sedentary lifestyle." For Mazumber, a focus on universal design is key to making cities and the public realm more accessible and comfortable for all. 

"At the heart of successful universal design is dignity, Mazumder said. When streets feel unsafe to cross, pedestrians have an undignified experience. When they feel unsafe to share, so do bicyclists." Mazumder points to "beg buttons" as one example of "undignified" urban design. In an example from Sweden, the government chose "to plough snow from sidewalks and bike paths first, instead of prioritizing streets" because "Sweden determined that 79 percent of its pedestrian injuries occurred during winter, and the overwhelming majority of those—69 percent—happened to women. An analysis found that women and children were more likely to be using icy sidewalks in winter than men, who were more likely to be commuting on ploughed streets." Injuries during wintertime went down by 50 percent.

"Infrastructure can also send discouraging messages to people who aspire to using alternative modes," as when unsafe roads prevent people from biking or walking safely or shared vehicles are tucked away in hard-to-find places. "The answer, which some UK governments have begun to pursue, is to put low-impact modes in the front, Roberts said, where they’re most visible and easiest to use."

Transportation systems, Zabe Bent, director of design for the National Association of City Transportation Officials argued, must be geared toward more than just getting people to and from work. "We just don’t think about access to food—and food security is huge—access to education," pointing out that only 30 percent of community colleges in the U.S. are near transit.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021 in Forbes

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