Blubber boffin wants flab-fighting townscapes

Bike friendly urban planning would benefit lard-laden populations

Obesity expert Philip James has just made an appeal to fellow scientists for a new cycle-centric approach to the design of towns and cities.

Professor James, chair of the International Obesity Task Force, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science: “A transformation is needed in the way towns and cities are designed to counteract the sedentary nature of modern living… rather than designing places where it is unpleasant or impossible to move around, whilst pouring billions into continuing to create car filled town centres and expensive motorway networks.” He outlined to his audience how such a redesign, making towns cycle-friendly, would be a double benefit, to both our waistlines and our environment.

The task force reports to governments around the world and to the Word Health Organisation and has forecast 2.3 billion adults to be overweight, including 700 million obese, by 2015. It also says that, globally, the number of people with diabetes is likely to double to 366 million by 2030, a figure which will include more than 30 million Americans. It is already accepted in US government forecasts that one in three children born in the USA during the 21st century will develop type 2 diabetes.

Professor James’ plea has the potential to be realized in ten planned ‘eco-towns’ across the UK which will accommodate 240,000 new homes. Talk is of the new towns being carbon-neutral, with cycle lanes, bus lanes and solar-powered, energy-efficient homes. However, controversy has surrounded the largely secret planning process, with leaked potential locations including greenfield sites on the edge of the Cotswolds and in Derbyshire’s National Park

Several critics are unconvinced. A Guardian report quoted the Council for the Protection of Rural England’s planning expert, Kate Gordon; “We support the idea of eco-towns, but they must be in the right place and developed in the right way. The most sustainable approach would be to regenerate existing quarters of old towns.”

The idea of new towns has been tried before in the UK in places like Letchworth, Stevenage, Hatfield and most famously Milton Keynes, but all have struggled to lift cycling levels above just a few percent. Rather than self-sustaining communities they are, in large part, commuting satellites of London. Many local protesters opposing ‘eco-towns’ in their areas have echoed the fear that this is just more development that will put thousands more cars on more roads – not get thousands more pedaling.        

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