Active Cities Report: Invest £1 – Get £19 Back


This sounds like a Ponzi scam; when banks are paying as little as 0.18% on deposits, where are you going to get that sort of return?

This amazing actual result was described at the recent Active Cities summit in Bristol, hosted by cycling network Sustrans, Bristol 2015 European Green Capital and Nike, which coincided with new research from the University of California, San Diego, and their Active Living Research program. Encouraging walking and cycling delivers this incredible rate of return: £19 return here in the UK for every £1 invested, higher than the figure for the USA at the equivalent of £13 per £1 invested.

The research revealed that towns and 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. Put quite simply, active populations create winning towns and cities.

Chad Spoon, part of the research team at Active Living Research, University of California, San Diego, 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.” And in a separate study, 9 out of 10 people said that cycling events made them look more favourably on their town.

The “Designed to Move: 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 here in 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, United States 
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina 
  • New York City, United States 
  • Copenhagen, Denmark 
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 
  • Medellin, Colombia 
  • Red Deer, Canada 
  • Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Adelaide, Australia

The report provides advice, tools and resources to create more physically active populations, including 10 quick wins for city leaders who want to transform their cities. For example, turning the lights on and keeping parks and sports courts open late, opening up school sports fields to the public and allowing people to apply for street-closing permits for neighbourhood play events are all low-cost ways to increase physical activity.

Philip Insall, Health Director at Sustrans, said: “In an age when successful companies and talented workers have the freedom to locate absolutely anywhere on the globe, cities can give themselves a competitive edge by making a healthy, active lifestyle easy to choose. Many cities are already seeing the benefits of physical activity and are making themselves desirable to live in.

“The relationship between physical activity and economic performance has been clear for years, but this research shows active cities are healthier, wealthier, safer, greener and more cohesive. Not surprisingly, the people who live in them are happier. That’s an advantage.

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.

Simple, low cost, immediate changes that could be made: are we going to see access to parks extended beyond dusk? How about adding static bikes which generate the power for low voltage lighting for basketball courts and 5-a-side pitches? Do we leave it to the politicians to take the initiative here or do we lobby them to try to get action? What are your thoughts on that? 


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