Healthy Neighbourhoods

Cllr Ketan Sheth

Brent Healthy Neighbourhoods have been making headlines and indeed these were debated at a special Full Council meeting a few days ago.

So what are these “emergency” Covid road closures and “low-traffic neighbourhoods” all about? Well these are a group of residential streets where vehicle traffic, which is not local to the area, is either discouraged or removed. These areas are commonly referred to as low-traffic neighbourhoods. Brent plans to roll out a series of these initiatives between August 2020 and February 2021, in partnership with Transport for London and the Department for Transport. So, how can we make this innovative initiative better and benefit all?

I love where I live. It is rich in the elements that make for a vibrant, connected community. There is a bus stop near my home, there are nearby parks, I visit with my two young sons, and neighbours who represent a wide range of ethnicities, ages, and incomes.

These are all elements of healthy neighbourhoods. Brent aims to create neighbourhoods, and communities that better support residents’ physical, social, and emotional wellbeing. A lot of living happens between buildings and we are starting to realise that reactive healthcare is not sustainable. We need to move to a more proactive mind-set and break down the silos between planners, healthcare, and governments. Then we can develop environments that improve health outcomes and help alleviate the burden of treating chronic conditions at a macroeconomic level.

This involves working with our communities and various stakeholders. At the individual and community levels, the more attention policy makers, planners, and developers pay to these principles, the more likely it is that we will all be able to proclaim our love for our neighbourhoods — and the healthy, supported, and connected lives they enable us to lead.

We know that stress plays a vital role in undermining health and wellness — whether it is caused by commuting, isolation, congestion, lack of exercise, or estrangement from nature — so it is not surprising that stress reduction and connecting residents, both young and old, with their streets is at the heart of healthy neighbourhoods’ initiative.

So, to enhance Brent’s innovative Healthy Neighbourhoods we should:

1. Think Smart location

We must reflect on how people have safe and easy access to public transport. Residents should be able to meet basic needs without using a car, which saves money, and walking on errands provides routine physical movement and social interaction.

2. Nature is integrated

Green spaces are abundant, or at least present. Natural landscapes help maintain and cleanse the environment by removing harmful toxins from the air and water, while open space promotes physical activity and psychological wellbeing.

3. Land use is mixed

Combining housing, schools, shops, and places of worship in a compact area provides easy access to services and decreases reliance on cars. This supports physical and social well-being.

4. Includes a variety of housing types

A mix of apartment buildings, small homes, and larger homes that can accommodate multi-generational families naturally encourages economic and demographic diversity. Combining incomes and generations decentralises poverty, enables “aging in place,” and encourages attainable housing for community members of all backgrounds, income levels, and ages.

5. Offers alternatives to driving

People in pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly communities have a reduced risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease and enjoy more routine social interaction.

6. Encourages pride of place

Healthy neighbourhoods host high-quality public spaces that encourage residents to come out of their homes to exercise, meet, and mingle (in post Covid times). This builds social capital and a sense of community.

7. Provides access to healthy foods

Community gardens, farmers’ markets, food co-ops, and shops that offer a wide range of fresh vegetables and fruits are critical amenities that support wellness.

8. Enables lifelong learning Community members of all ages and backgrounds have opportunities to share their skills, knowledge, and experience with others through mentoring, book clubs, informal lectures, classes, and workshops, all of which promote feelings of growth, self-sufficiency, and connectedness.

9. Incorporates sustainable development

Low-impact development and green building technologies yield positive benefits for human health as well as the environment.

Like other councils, we are taking the opportunity to “de-stress” our local area.  Local councils have the unique democratic mandate and place-shaping ability to make these difficult and complex decisions about conflicting perspectives, needs and preferences.

Cllr Sheth chairs the Brent Council Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee

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