From Melbourne to Oslo, Global conversations on Active Design

This past month, the Center for Active Design traveled the globe to participate in fascinating conferences for two distinctive cities facing similar development concerns. Board Chair David Burney spoke at a conference in Melbourne Australia, and Executive Director Joanna Frank spoke in Oslo, Norway. Touted as two of the most livable cities in the world, both Melbourne and Oslo are experiencing challenges with development patterns that support health and the environment.

Speaking on the topic of “liveable cities,” David Burney joined various leaders at the biannual Festival of Ideas hosted by the University of Melbourne. Recently ranked the world's most livable city for the 3rd year in a row, Melbourne has set high standards for its future growth patterns. In order to maintain its livability, Melbourne’s plans for continued growth must include access to amenities that are already widely available in the city center, such as parks, open spaces, recreational spaces and transit.

Although the city center of Melbourne is walkable and vibrant, development patterns at the edge of the city have resulted in neighborhoods that are dependent on cars. Dr. Billie Giles-Corti of the University of Melbourne has noted the importance of pedestrian amenities in her study, which looks at the importance of urban planning on active living in Australia. During his visit to Melbourne, David Burney noted that, “The big issue in Melbourne is the "middle suburbs" where density is too low to support services and carries very high per capita costs for city services. Four million people spread over 120 square kilometers (46 square miles) - it's a bit like the Detroit problem.” To read more on David Burney’s discussions on Melbourne and livable cities, please click here.

The Norwegian Landscape Architects Association invited Joanna Frank to participate in its annual design conference, which this year looked at planning for Oslo’s growth. Ms. Frank discussed city design and its ability to promote physical activity and health, and highlighted the importance of preserving and enhancing the diverse set of qualities that make cities vibrant and appealing. Contrary to common perceptions of Scandinavians, who are renowned for cross-country skiing as a way of life, we were surprised to learn that a lack of physical activity and sedentary lifestyles are becoming more common in Norway. A recent study published by the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences shows that more than fifty percent of Norwegians are overweight, and that only one in five gets the recommended amount of physical activity per day similar to the US.

Similar to Melbourne, the city of Oslo in Norway has a dense and walkable city center. It is currently undergoing a construction boom with the development of Fjord City, a new neighborhood on the port of Oslo. Fjord City represents a massive opportunity in terms of designing for health, as it aims to create new residential communities, schools, and public spaces, with a 9 kilometer (5.5 mile) promenade along the water’s edge. The development is already notable for its impressive Opera house. Designed by the architectural firm Snohetta, it provides a roof on which people are invited to walk, sit, and play.

It was a pleasure to meet and learn from organizations in both Oslo and Melbourne, who are committed to developing in a manner that takes health into account. As cities continue to expand, it is crucial that they prioritize population health along with other goals such as environmental sustainability and economic development. The Center for Active Design will continue to study the development patterns of lower density communities, and looks forward to facilitating an exchange of case studies and insights on innovative design that supports physical activity.

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    The Opera House in Oslo allows people to climb, sit, and play on its roof; Photo from www.archdaily.com.
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    Melbourne's city center has ample amenities for pedestrians to stroll, sit, and run.