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Fit Cities: New York

15 June 2013 Written by By Kathy MacEwen Cabe Head of Programmes

New York is tackling one of our major health challenges, obesity, through changing the environment in the city. I spent today at the eighth Fit Cities Conference in New York. What an inspiration! The conference was lively, highly informative and enormous fun - including two exercise breaks and applauding standing up!

Highlights so far have included a panel discussion with six City Commissioners who showed an impressive level of cohesiveness and enthusiasm. They run departments for public health, transport, planning, design and construction, parks, disability, and the fact that they all came to speak shows how important this programme is. Talks were also given by local community leaders and private companies who are getting involved in trying to find solutions to what many health professionals now consider a pandemic.

This was no talking shop. It was an amazingly vibrant exchange of past successes, current schemes being built and thoughts for the future.

We heard of impressive schemes to encourage stair usage in buildings, the addition of 800 acres of parkland over the last 10 years, a vast new network of cycle lanes and the new city bike hire initiative, the explosive growth of farmers' markets, schools growing food, community allotments, amazing transformations such as the High Line in Lower Manhattan - and much, much more. The exciting result is that child obesity is now going down, this is unique in the States.

Integration and co-ordination between concerned parties was one of the most powerful themes of the day - in particular between city governments, non-profits and local communities. We also debated how our ageing populations will increase the need for design solutions to suit their needs in the not too distant future.

One especially impressive aspect of the conference was the very practical nature of all the projects the speakers were involved in. This was no 'talking shop'. It was an amazingly vibrant exchange of past successes, current schemes being built and thoughts for the future. A key component of any efforts in this area has to be offering alternatives to a way of life that is leading to obesity, trying to change attitudes and habits that have grown to become 'normal' over the last 20-50 years. It is a task that the Design Council feels itself well suited to and we are building our own Active by Design programme, aimed at using design to help solve the growing problems of physical inactivity, obesity and lack of access to healthy, nutritious food.

We are continuing to build our relationship with key people in the New York City government and the Center for Active Design that helped organise the conference and is a key player in many of the successful schemes that are being put in place in New York.

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