Australian urban planners play a pivotal role in addressing health issues in cities, reveals a new study conducted by University of Sydney Robinson Fellow at the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, Dr Jennifer Kent.

Kent’s research analyses how land-use planning and human health are connected, especially the ways in which urban structures and governance influence human health. Linking many of the chronic and costly diseases facing Australia to modern city living, the study highlights the rising inequity in the promotion of good health in urban areas.

Urban planning is increasingly recognised as an effective mechanism to shape and manage built environments so that they encourage and support physical activity, social connection and access to healthy food.

“My research was driven by a need to discuss some of the ways better urban planning can promote health, proposing key changes that need to occur in Australian cities. I believe that Australia, in many ways, is at the forefront of highlighting the intersection between health and the built environment,” Kent says.

The book ‘Planning Australia’s Healthy Built Environments’, which is based on Kent’s research, looks at the way Australian urban planning influences human health, and covers wide-ranging topics such as access to healthy food, opportunities for physical activity, social interactions and mental health, as well as equity, time use and diversity in our cities.

Kent’s study covers the links between health and higher density living, the interpretation of health evidence into urban planning policy, the health impacts of extended commute times, and cultural and structural barriers to sustainable transport use.

Though Australian governments do recognise the potential for built environments to promote health, factors such as changing political priorities, complex regulatory systems and difficulties associated with working across disciplines create challenges to realising this potential.