Gil Penalosa: a pathway to a more sustainable Sydney

Sydney lacks walkability and needs to become much more pedestrian and bike friendly, according to sustainable urban mobility expert Gil Penalosa.

In Sydney for the World Parks Congress, Mr Penalosa, executive director of Canadian not-for-profit 8-80, said the city was outstanding but getting around could be difficult.

“Creating a city that is a good place to live, whether you are eight or 80 years old, wealthy or struggling, a long-time Australian or a newly arrived resident, is something we all need to aim for.

“We know from research around the world that our urban lifestyles are contributing to our increasing sickness and poor health. As non-communicable diseases are responsible for two-thirds of all deaths globally we need to look to our lifestyle for answers. As most Australians live in a city, we need to closely examine our cities and how we can make them healthier and better places to live.”

His prescription for a sustainable Sydney includes putting pedestrians first and creating a walkable environment that is safe for all ages and abilities, and also developing a “minimum grid” of safe, separated on-road cycle paths that connect key origins and destinations.

Speed limits, he said, also need to be lowered to a 30 kilometres a hour maximum for all neighbourhood streets.

“It will save lives and also make life more enjoyable and safe for all. A person hit by a car going at 30km/h has five per cent probability of being killed while at 50km/h the probability increases to over 85 per cent,” Mr Penalosa said.

Another key recommendation is that parks and public spaces should be activated through consistent programming and activities for the public, and that every citizen should have a neighbourhood park in walking distance.

“These local parks must be complemented with regional and city parks creating a great city-wide park system that mixes active, passive and contemplative recreation.”

The final ingredient is public engagement.

“Citizens can no longer be spectators; they must participate. This contribution may be advocating for more funding for parks, volunteering in activities or lobbying government to improve the health of citizens of all ages and backgrounds,” he said.

Prior to taking up the role with 8-80 in 2008, Mr Penalosa was the commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogotá in Colombia, where he led the design and development of over 200 parks and initiated the “new Ciclovia”, a program which sees over one million people walk, run, skate and bike along 121 kilometres of Bogotá’s city roads every Sunday.

A contributor to the book Resilient Sustainable Cities edited by Peter Newton, Leonie Pearson and Peter Roberts, Mr Penalosa is also the urban expert on mobility and citizen engagement for the Danish firm Gehl Architects, serves on the board of directors of City Parks Alliance in the US, and is a senior advisor to StreetFilms in New York, American Trails, State of Jalisco in Mexico, and America Walks.

By Willow Aliento | 20 November 2014

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