Transcript Learn@Lunch with Professor Susan Thompson

Welcome to Health City

8 August 2018

 

Welcoming remarks from Professor Helen Lochhead, Dean, UNSW Built Environment

 

Helen Lochhead: Welcome everybody. Thank you for joining us at this year's Learn@Lunch, a bite-sized lecture series with UNSW Australia's leading academics.

My name is Professor Helen Lochhead and I'm the Dean of the Faculty of Built Environment at UNSW. I'm delighted you can join us here today, but before we begin I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to elders both past and present.

Now to our speaker, Professor Susan Thompson. Susan's academic career researching and teaching in the built environment is grounded in professional practice. She joined UNSW in 1991 after holding urban planning positions in both state and local government, and has had a stellar career in academia ever since.

She's absolutely passionate about the built environment and the healthy built environments, and so leads the City Wellbeing Program in the City Futures Research Centre in our faculty. City Wellbeing focuses on planning, designing and building environments that support people's health and wellbeing as part of their everyday lives.

Her contributions have been significant in urban planning policy and legislation, tertiary education, professional development and the advancement of closer links between the disciplines of urban planning and health.

In recognition of her longstanding contributions to planning, Susan was elected a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia in 2012. In 2015 Susan was also awarded the Sidney Luker Memorial Medal. Last year in honour of her significant contributions she received the Australian Urban Research Medal.

Today her lecture entitled Welcome to Health City, Susan will speak to you about what she loves and is passionate about. She'll give a 40 minute presentation and then we'll have time for Q&A of about 10 minutes, so you'll be able to ask her questions, but before we begin I'd also like to ask everyone to make sure their mobiles are turned off or on silent mode, and to be aware that this is being filmed or recorded for future podcasts, and so as long as you're aware of that I'd just like to make that known to you.
So I'd like to now welcome Susan Thompson to the stage. Thank you Susan.

Learn@Lunch presentation by Professor Susan Thompson
Susan Thompson: Well thank you very much for that warm welcome. It's indeed a great pleasure and privilege to be addressing you today. So I hope you'll find that your lunch time has been well spent, and that you'll be able to go away with some new ideas, but no doubt much of the ideas that you already have about healthy cities reaffirmed and confirmed.

Before I begin I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and just pay homage to their legacy of the stewardship of the land, the places and the spaces that we enjoy, and the stewardship that they have enacted on that land for thousands of years.

Now in my talk today I'm going to cover the things that are up there on the slide. First of all, just thinking about, well is there a problem with our health? We're always talking about health issues, and yet what indeed is the link between health and the built environment?

Then I'm going to drill down into these areas that I call domains, that show the links between health and the built environment. Then I'm going to talk about different challenges and opportunities and then make a few concluding remarks.

Well things are progressing pretty well with our health. We are living longer than we've ever lived before. Our life expectancy is one of the highest in the world. Our infectious disease rates are plummeting. We used to die from many of the infectious diseases that still affect some populations across the world, but less and less so.

Today these are the types or the culprits, if you like, the culprits for causing major illness and disability and ultimately death. Today we are victims to a lifestyle. We also have a significant problem with rising obesity, and we hear about that a lot in the media. It is a significant risk factor for many of the chronic diseases that plague 21st century people the world over, and indeed many of us today in Australia are either overweight or obese.

This particular infographics just displays the stark reality of this situation, and it is especially worrying in relation to children because an overweight child has a tendency then to take that risk factor for illness into their adult life.

Associated with increased obesity rates is the rising trajectory of diabetes. Now many of you will know, no doubt have personal and other family experience of diabetes, which is a very serious chronic disease, and it is largely connected with our lifestyle, not wholly but very much related.

Things like high obesity rates, insufficient physical activity, insufficient vegetable and fruit consumption. I wonder if you've had your, or are going to have your recommended veggie intake today? I hope so.

I often ask my students about that, I get some very interesting answers, but it's very much, sadly about the way we live and we have to really address that, but when also consider contemporary health trends, we also need to factor in equity, and equity crosses things or crosses different populations, such as our indigenous people.

We also have iniquitous health trends for people with disabilities who live with mental and physical disabilities, and as well people in lower socio-economic groups and those living in rural and remote regional areas in Australia.

Just a word about much of the information that I've given you in those very few slides about health status, that much of that information comes from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and I cannot recommend the institute highly enough for its wealth of research, evidence, information, very easy to understand information about every aspect of Australia's health.

So now I'm going to shift gear and just talk very briefly about a couple of historical origins, historical origins of where planning came from. Urban planning was very closely linked to improving people's health, and that indeed was its origins.

Many of the major planning improvements, planning movements, the significant moments in planning were about how can we improve people's health? This is an image of a mule in Haberfield, which is an exemplar of the Garden City suburb, which was a major movement in urban planning, which was very much about improving people's health, taking people away from crowded inner city slums, where many people died from infectious diseases when those infectious disease rates were very high. Also, taking people into healthy environments, away from heavily polluting industries nearby.

So for much of the early 20th century into the 20th century we did create a much healthier environment for people. This was also mirrored internationally through many of the movements, the major charters, this one here, our seminal charter, the Ottawa Charter in 1986, and much of the work of the World Health Organization.

I think it's just interesting to just pause for a moment and think about that definition of health, which goes back to 1946, that the definition from the World Health Organization, just reminding us that health is about a complete state of wellbeing, it's not just about the absence of disease or infirmity.

So that's what we're talking about here, health as a complete state of how we would all like to live our lives. And so, time went on we started to see the evidence building for this environment health connection. These two diagrams are more I suppose conceptual schemers about how the environment links to people's health.

The one on the left is done by my UK colleagues, Hugh Barton and Marcus Grant, called the Settlement Map. Hugh and Marcus are also urban planners and they've taken the relationship with health right out to the global ecosystem, relating our health to the health of the planet. I'll return to that when I get to the fourth domain of healthy built environments.

So these conceptual schemers are also helpful just in reminding us that health is dependent on so much more than individual factors, our individual genetic inheritance. Our health is dependent on complex interplay of these factors well beyond our individual control.

So let me summarize how the built environment relates to health. Today we have a situation where we know that the built environment is centrally implicated in our health and wellbeing.

We have a wealth of evidence summarizing this situation, and we unfortunately have a situation where much of the great work that we've been doing, particularly over the perhaps 50, 60 years, has unfortunately had unintended consequences very much about designing out physical activity and designing in cities social dislocation and disconnection.

We are facing now a situation which is dire for our economy in terms of picking up the health bill, looking after people who are suffering from these lifestyle related diseases.

We can sum this up as a problem very much to do with our sedentary life lives and lifestyles. What I've listed here are the three major risk factors for chronic disease that very much relate to what we can do in the built environment. These are obesity, physical activity and social dislocation.

So now I'm going to stop all that bad news and tell you some good stuff about how we are making healthy cities, and how we can continue on this trajectory. So there's lots of research and practice evidence, and I want to share some of that with you.

First, I'm just going to show you that this particular document came out in 2011, which was done by the Healthy Built Environments Program, the precursor to the City Wellbeing Program that I lead now in the faculty of the Built Environment at UNSW.
In this document, which you can freely download from the website, we collated much of the evidence around the health and the built environment, particularly focusing on the Australian situation.

We identified three domains where we could see had the most opportunity for urban planning, for built environment design to make a difference. These three domains quite simply put the built environment and getting people active, the built environment and connecting and strengthening communities, and the built environment and getting people access to healthy food. These quite nicely, in a sense, address the major risk factors for chronic disease, which I've already spoken about.

Of course, it's not quite as simple as that in reality and there's a complex set of relationships between these three domains, but they're a very useful organizing framework and we've used them in much of the work that we've been doing in this area since that time.

So healthy cities can support and encourage physical activity. This is particularly around our leisure time. Much of this we spend enjoying coastal, beautiful coastal environments, and much of this is about how we ensure that our children are active during their leisure activities.

Connecting streets and cycling networks in particular ways will enhance the opportunities for people to be active. But away from the coast, even in the centre of Australia, and this is an image of the pathway, the shared bike and walking pathway in Alice Springs along the Todd River, which doesn't see much water in it I think, if ever, we are encouraging people to be physically active.
We have had great success I think in Sydney in terms of ensuring that people have access to the harbor. We've kept the harbor foreshores in public ownership so that people in Sydney can enjoy so much leisure time in that environment.

As well as creating environments to enhance walking and cycling, design helps in encouraging, inviting and enlivening environments to get people active. This is one of my favourite, it's actually in Cairns, a beautiful water play park where children naturally want to come and play. It really speaks to the local climate and it's a wonderful example of design.

We also have to be mindful of our harsh Australian sun and our very high skin cancer rates, and ensure that areas for active play are also well shaded. Safety is critical. If parents do not perceive an area to be safe for their children, irrespective of whether it is or it isn't, they won't allow their children out to play, to be active and connect with other kids.

Safety comes into all sorts of decisions in how we use the built environment, and we could have a lengthy discussion about that, but I just wanted to make the point, it's critical to the creation of a healthy built environment.

Getting people active is also a part of what we do in our transportation planning and we're doing this more and more. Many of you will perhaps be commuter cyclists. Here in the city of Sydney there's been some fantastic progress in terms of supporting people to use active transport to get to and from work and to get around.

But we're still not very good at this in Australia and it's interesting when we reflect about what has happened in other countries, it's been happening for many years in European countries. This is a city in the south of Germany that I visited a few years back, Freiburg, where they have been doing a lot to get their population physically fit and healthy.

Everyone cycles in Freiburg, from younger people to the much older person jumping on a bike. They are off to shopping, to activities, whatever. In the centre of Freiburg we even have a cycling freeway. Many people sharing this space, riding along with families, children, as I said right across the life course.

Cycling is supported through this particular parking station. This is a parking station for bikes, the whole of it. It is located in the centre of Freiburg, adjoining the railway station and the city tram network, so that people can leave their bikes securely and collect them after their other trips into the city to and from work.

So this is a sort of infrastructure that we should be thinking about providing to enhance the ability of people to take up being much more active as part of everyday living.

Public transport is also at the heart of a healthy city. We have to walk or cycle to get to our train, our bus, our tram, and then walk further when we get to the stop nearest our destination. So public transport is a great way to make sure we're getting additional activity into our daily lives.

We should be investing vastly in public transport, and yes there are some great examples of where we are doing that. This image is not deliberately of anywhere in Australia, but just a reminder that this is not the way to go.

We should not be investing in this sort of infrastructure because this just reinforces car use and it reinforces sedentary way of life, as well as being very, very damaging to our planet.

So let me now swing to my second domain, which is a healthy city gives people access to healthy food. It does that in a variety of ways, many of which I'm sure you'll be well familiar with, things like farmers' markets.

If you haven't been to a farmers' market let me encourage you to go and visit one. They're everywhere across the globe, and if I'm visiting a new city I always try to check out where the farmers' markets might be, and indeed this image, the smaller image on the left is a beautiful farmers' market in Portland in the State of Oregon in the US.

The one on the right is a farmers' market in Darwin. Farmers' markets introduce us to the seasonality of fresh produce, and often the delights then of preparing nutritional meals as a conversation happens about, "Oh what fruit is that? What vegetable is that? How do you cook it?" and so on. So it's about encouraging and celebrating the joy of great food, fresh fruit and vegetables.
Community gardens is another way that we can connect to each other through getting access to healthy foods. Community gardens is one of my favourite aspects of a healthy city because of the multiple benefits that community gardens offer to people's health.

It's not just about being able to grow healthy food and culturally appropriate food, it's also about getting people more active, it's about connecting people to each other, and it's about a great experience.

I have done some research on community gardens and heard the most amazing stories about the ways in which community gardens opened up all sorts of opportunities for people to connect and another great way to make a good community.

School kitchen gardens are also another related example of a community garden, but are obviously focused on children, and located in school grounds across Australia, with the imprimatur of our famous chef, Stephanie Alexander and her amazing support for this, these are aimed at encouraging and introducing children to the fun and satisfaction of growing their own food, and then giving them instruction about how to prepare that food in a delicious and nutritional way.

Quite often parents will say to me, "I tried to get my youngster to eat green this, green that, they wouldn't, but as soon as they grew it and brought it home, we were all eating it." So a really great way to bring that joy of good food into a family through children.
Another example of social connection around urban food production is how we're seeing many examples of people planting out the nature strip along suburban streets. We'll see little garden like this with fruits and vegetables, and many of these are simply, well not simply, but as well as healthy food, they are just bringing communities together.

There's no doubt some of you may well be involved in little examples yourselves, where your streets come together and people start to talk to each other. The whole neighbourhood starts to connect, streets feel safer through this simple act of just planting a few veggies in the garden out the front.

The third domain that I want to talk about briefly is about how healthy cities connect communities. They do this as part of what happens in the front of iconic places, civic buildings. We have many examples here and this is about connecting everyone in a community, providing places for everyone to feel like they belong.

We know from the evidence that is mounting more and more that social isolation is a risk factor for chronic disease, not only mental illness and mental health problems, but physical chronic disease as well, so social connection is incredibly important, and a very a significant way that built environment professionals can contribute to people's health.

It's also about how do we create great places in connection with commercial uses? This is happening more and more, as more and more of us live in high-density accommodation, in apartments. It's also as a cultural practice in some cities, one of the images there is from a city in Italy, Prato, where this has been a cultural practice over generations.

Social connection in green spaces is also absolutely critical. I can't say too much about the importance of green. We know from a wealth of evidence that humans need to connect with green spaces. We need to be able to take refuge to replenish our overburdened sensory systems, particularly in urban environments by going into green spaces. It is critical for our mental and our physical health.

Social connection certainly in green spaces, but let's also just remember that the little things matter, and people sometimes perhaps find this, or you don't want to talk about this, or good heavens this is a bit banal for an important talk, talking about toilets, public toilets, very, very important.

If we don't have things like public toilets, seating for people to take a rest if they need to, or just to be able to look out, to take a break, to see what others are doing, to connect with their mates.

We have the marvellous Men's Shed movement here. I've been fortunate to have been taken into a few Men Sheds. They really do connect in a fantastic way. We've got lovely examples too of where whole communities have come together with designers and community artists to create a public space that has resonance and relevance for them in terms of historical and heritage legacies.
And so now, I just want to very briefly touch on what I'm calling my fourth domain, and that is of a healthy planet. Whilst there is many different aspects around healthy planets, or healthy planet, our healthy planet, which is struggling, things like biodiversity and other issues, I'll just spend time here briefly focusing on climate change, which I think this quote here very, very interestingly from The Lancet, the very famous British medical journal declaring back in 2009, that, "Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century."

It has since then built up an enormous body of evidence around the health implications of climate change. This is culminated in a new journal which was launched last year by The Lancet under the umbrella of The Lancet Journals called Planetary Health.
This is an open access journal which we can all readily view and look at the amazing information, much of it presented in very easily accessible forms. This is just an example of one of the infographics that details the direct, the indirect health consequences of climate change. Then looks at the very complex interplay and implications of those direct and indirect, affects the social, economic and cultural life.

Indeed, a very, very complicated issue around our planet's health is how do we deal with climate change? But it certainly does provide many opportunities for us as built environment professionals to enact interventions that address planetary health, address climate change, and will also address human health, improving both.

So let me now conclude with some opportunities and challenges, and perhaps some of these will be ideas for our Q&A at the conclusion of the Learn@Lunch presentation. One of the biggest opportunities and a challenge that we do face now is how do we live healthy lives in much higher density living, in tall buildings especially for the very young and the very old, people dependent on others to get out and about, to be in green, to be connected with other people?

There's also challenges around construction of high-density developments, ensuring that people feel a sense of power and autonomy, a sense that this is my home, as well as realizing that they're living in close proximity to others and respecting privacy needs of theirs and others.

Another opportunity and a challenge going into the 21st century is how we share? How we share different spaces, different use of spaces? How we might share, not everyone will share cars? How we might share being able to walk and cycle in different ways along paths?

Another opportunity and challenge is the focus that we are seeing more and more on public spaces. Great opportunities I think for both designers and planners, and communities to come together to create the best possible spaces that mean something for those communities in a way that connects them to ensure that they are healthy and well.

As I said before, I can't say enough about the importance of green space. That's a big opportunity for us, and a big challenge. This is not just about the quality and the design, it is very much about the quantity of open space as well.

We also have to think about different uses of spaces. The dog park is one of my favourite, perhaps, well not really new spaces anymore, and I'm sure many of you would frequent dog parks, as I do, not with a dog in tow, but walking through.

I just marvel at the conversations, people greeting each other, talking through their dog perhaps, but I've heard some great stories about all sorts of social connections, as well as people getting together, having fun, exercising and exercising for their dog as well.
Of course, dog parks come sometimes with challenges because we may have open space areas that are in short supply, and we want to use them for all sort of different things, so there might be some people wanting a dog park, and other people wanting a community garden, a child's play area, so we're going to have to be working out how can we ensure that we're putting our valuable open space to best use?

We also, as I've point out just briefly before, we've got opportunities to use street spaces, the side of streets, the green nature verges in different ways. Maybe as we proceed into the 21st century, as our cities become busier with more and more people, we're going to start to refocus on regional and rural areas as viable places for many more of us to go and be in and live in, particularly if we think about the opportunities that technologies provide for that sort of living.

Indeed, I think technology is both an opportunity and a challenge for the creation of a healthy built environment. This is an interesting application that comes out of the University College London, which is an Alliance PLuS partner with the University of New South Wales.

This is a particular app that connects people individually to their environments, and to how healthy or how good they feel about those environments. That sort of information can then be collated and help to inform planners and other built environment professionals in the provision of green open space, and other health supportive infrastructure.

I think of course, there's a lot of discussion about the challenge of disconnection through technology, and many of us fixated on those little oblong pieces of technology, rather than perhaps being connected to each other in a physical sense. So let's remember there are both opportunities there, but some definite challenges.

Very briefly, the opportunities to create a healthy built environment is associated with what is going to happen with climate change, but there are so many ways in which we can make progress on climate change, and also ensure that we are helping to support people being healthy and well.

We provide an environment where people are more active, getting them out of their cars, we're going to be reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That's just one example, and there are many examples of this notion of co-benefits that you can seek information about, particularly through the work of The Lancet in the new journal, Planetary Health.

The final challenge that I just want to mention briefly is about equity. I just thought this schematic map of Sydney really illustrates that quite starkly. This is, it's a schematic map of diabetes hotspots in Sydney, showing particularly how the red in the west and the south western areas, three times the diabetes rate of that in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, where it's denoted with the blue shading.

Finally, just to think about equity, this is a study done by colleagues down in the University of Wollongong, looking at the equitable distribution of greener space.

They found across the major cities of Sydney, sorry the major cities of Australia, that there is less green space in the areas with higher percentage of lower income residents, certainly saying something about how do we address equity issues for people in ensuring that everyone has access to the healthy city that we are creating?

So let me finish by, I had a bit of fun with this, some Cs and Es, that you might like to remember. Already talked about climate change, a little bit about context, but I think that's really important. Don't be hoodwinked. Don't think, "Oh they do it over there, we'll just do it over here." It might work, but it might not, and we have to think about local context.

We have to think about how does one intervention in a particular context translate to a very different context? What do the communities in that area want to do with that intervention? How can work for them? So local context is critical, as is culture. Cultural change, cultural acceptance in new ways of doing things, new ways of sharing, new ways of using the built environment.
My fourth C was about children. I think this is particularly to emphasize the next generation. What will be our legacy to the next generation in terms of built environments that support their health and their wellbeing and the generations to come?

Then the Es. First up, and I haven't really said much about this at all, but this makes good sense for our economy. Chronic disease is costing the economy an enormous amount of money. It's not only the money, it's a social and the distress to families, and the cost to families. The costs to our economy are significant, and if we can ensure that people are healthier for longer through their life, then were going to be reducing the burden of chronic disease in terms of the economic burden.

Equity, I've already spoken about, and that is a key issue that needs to be front and centrw of a healthy city. As does education and I'm really proud that we've been able to do some really innovative things at the University of New South Wales in bringing built environment professionals and health professionals, students studying to be in those professions together in the classroom.
We've also done professional development education, but around healthy built environments. We are building the evidence base. We're doing the research in different ways across quantitative and qualitative research to show that the built environment is squarely implicated, centrally implicated in the health and wellbeing of all of us. We have to understand how we can ensure that the built environment can support us being healthy and well as part of everyday living.

So welcome to healthy city, but don't take it for granted. Please join me with this in addressing these challenges and ensuring that we pick up the great opportunities that they provide for us in the 21st century ahead. Thank you.

40.55 Q&A session
Helen Lochhead: Thank you Susan, that was terrific. I think everyone would join me in agreeing that there was something there for everyone, and the thing that I love about the work in which Susan's focused is that it's completely accessible, that everyone actually can play a part in making an impact on our environment, and our lives, and our communities.

So you're truly an enabler in the best and most positive way, but I know that there will probably be people in the audience who have got burning questions that they want to ask, and I know time is short.

So we have a couple of mics, and I know we've got a question here down in the front row. If you do have a question, maybe put up your hand now so we can triage them. John, you can be the next person. So thank you.

Speaker: I do a lot of work as a building inspector of high-rise buildings, and I see that engineers now are able to design a building a kilometre high. I also belong to strata groups and do work there. What I find at those strata groups is constant social problems, but going beyond the social problems, when one get an approval from council for a high-rise, you allow a certain amount of ground around the space, I never see children playing in those spaces. So why try? But come back to the fundamental, what should we be doing with high-rise to meet the things that you've spoken about?

Susan Thompson: That's a great question, and many important points that you've raised in that question and comment. I think yes, we must bother to have green space around high buildings. Green space is also an important aspect of reducing the heat island impact of climate change in our cities.

Just being able to view green space can be important for people, and we know that from research that's been done around health and people recovering from operations and serious illness, actually get better more quickly if they are able to see green space, and certainly if they're able to then go and be in green space.

I think we are seeing some exciting innovations in high-rise developments through green walls and in fact some high-rise buildings actually have whole floors of green. I've seen dog parks on the top of buildings. I've also seen community areas, community gardens, so people come together maybe over a barbecue perhaps on the top of their building, or maybe in a special space as part of that building.

I think this is an evolving thing. I think it's also about the culture that needs to shift in the way ... or shift in association with how we are living very, very differently, going from what perhaps was Australia's tradition of the house on the quarter acre block, now pretty much a distant memory for most of us, into apartment living, and into much more shared ways of living.

John: Thank you Susan for a very interesting talk. I just offer a suggestion of another C, and that is the city of villages, which of course Sydney had been progressing all its bike paths, walking paths, village developments, when I say, village, I mean local community centres, under a general overall concept of a walkable city focused on what was called the City of Villages.

It's a little bit hokey, but nevertheless, most people understood that it was the culmination of small centres where you could in fact get to know the person who gave you a cup of coffee, and you could get a service there, but more importantly you walked to that centre, occasionally would ride your bike if you were a little further out.

But the idea of walking to local centres seems to me, a very fundamental part. This city itself, the City of Sydney, is as an exemplar of working towards that underneath that general umbrella. So just as a suggestion maybe an additional C, but also a very profitable area for future research really on our back door.

Yes, absolutely John. I think the work of the City Council has been absolutely inspirational in both the areas of climate change, planetary health, and human health. A walkable city is, it's a happy city. It's a city where we feel much greater sense of belonging, and the opportunities to create a sense of community, where people feel valued right across the life course is so much more open to us, so thank you for making a great point.

Bobby: Hello. My name is Bobby Ali Khan from DWP Architects. We plan city spaces very much along the lines of what you've presented. Recently we've done one in Dubai, and we do this across Australia. We're moving that way globally, which is I think a very positive thing, and you can see that in master planned communities.

To the first person that I guess made some comments about living densely within a city, I live in one of these sorts of some larger apartment developments. I have downsized with my family from a very large quarter acre block. We actually see more of our neighbours. We see more of kids going to school. We see more of people with dogs around, and it's actually an incredibly connected space with a lot of local amenity and much more walking. So I think there are enormous positives.

I think there's obviously some bumps along the way in the way we design our buildings, and our planning codes around acoustics in our high-density architecture, which have got a long way to go yet, even at the top of our leading tear 1 developers, if you like, but we're heading in a very positive direction. Thank you, this is been very, very lovely and informative. Thank you.
Susan Thompson: Thank you for that fantastic comment and that's wonderful that that's your experience. Wonderful. Thank you so much Bobby.

Speaker: We've got rising population, and we've got a rising inequality, looking ahead to the year 2050, are you optimistic or pessimistic?

Susan Thompson: It depends on whether I've had a good night’s sleep or not. With the marvellous young people, and I don't mean this in a cynical way at all, but I think it's a great privilege to be an educator, and I've been doing it for quite some years now. I look around at some of my students and that makes me optimistic, and I think, "Well wow, if you guys and gals can take that, take some of these enormous challenges" and two that you've just mentioned, "and somehow move to create these or to bring out many of the opportunities that they present, that provides me with optimism."

But certainly yes, we do have some major challenges, but I think we have to retain our optimism, and we have to do what we can. You know what is it? Think globally, act locally. I think we've just had a marvelous example of that through the War on Waste on ABC. What amazing creation of community, going around and collecting and recycling your rubbish that's been. So yes, we must be optimistic. Yeah.

Speaker: I think the first comment about green space around buildings not working probably is about ... I mean I think there is a definition called biophilic design, which I think is really putting a better name to what we need to create, which is multisensory and meaningful connections to nature.

I think just planting a couple of trees, and a few plants doesn't do it, there's a much more considered approach to how you can help people engage regularly, meaningfully and through using all their senses to help make it really work. I think that, that's an area that people say, "Yeah, yeah we're doing it." But I think there's a real opportunity for much better focus on achieving that going forward that.

Susan Thompson: Thank you.

Helen Lochhead: I think we've got probably time for maybe two quick questions, is there questions? So one there, and then one over here, and that will be our last question. So thank you.

Speaker: Oh thanks very much for the talk Professor Thompson. I was just wondering if you could comment a bit on, what I just thinking and listening to your talk occurred to me that the part of the problem we seem to have is we have a city where a lot of the infrastructure, and I'm thinking now in terms of street layout and things like that, was built 50 or a 100 years ago.

Then we have people rezoning to meet population requirements, and simply taking and combining a number of blocks which maybe had two or three small houses and putting a high-rise. The effect seems to be, and I'm thinking of an area for example, where I worked at Mascot, where you suddenly have just created canyons, massive canyons for the wind to blow through, which is as much as they try, is a very sterile environment.

That even though there are parks in the area there's no easy way, the traffic seems to form barriers between the buildings and those existing green spaces. Just wondering if you've had some thoughts about that?

Susan Thompson: Well that's a nice easy question. Maybe Helen, Helen, I'm not sure. Well it's a design issue in part isn't it Helen? You're right, I mean we to don't want to be creating environments where people don't want to go in, that's the last thing we want to be doing. So I might need a bit of help on that one. What do you think?

Helen Lochhead: I think the issue about increasing densities in our cities needs to be sort of considered holistically. So we have to think about the strategic planning frameworks, the local environmental plans, the development control plans, the detailed design guidelines. Then the architecture and design, and landscape design of those spaces, but without all those pieces of the puzzle in place you're only going to get a fragmented solution.

So I think often, and we have seen it in this city, some very poor examples of up-zoning without the commensurate increase in amenity and increase in improvements to public spaces. So if want a 21st century which is going to be fit for purpose in terms of high-density living, we need to consider all those holistically. I do think in Metropolitan Sydney today with the Greater Sydney Commission, and a much whole of Sydney focus, we're acknowledging that and we're doing something about it.

Susan Thompson: Yeah. Thank you.

Helen Lochhead: There was one last question.

Christine: Thanks. Christine Murphy is my name. Thanks for a very inspiring talk. I think we're in a room full of people who are really just gunning for it and ready to see these ideas going even further.

I've been studying in the United States, the role of open space and improving health in communities. I've come across the Parks Prescription Project. Every time I go there I come back thinking, "Why aren't we doing this sort of thing here?"

I'll briefly outline it, and then maybe hand it over to see what we need to do to get these sort of partnerships activated. This was started by a bunch of GPs in San Francisco, who thought they would prefer to write prescriptions for some of their patients, for them to actively use open space.

They've partnered with the National Park Service, many of them now trained to actually oversee particularly young people with mental health initiatives. So the prescriptions are actually for people to go and do things in parks.

It seems so obvious with our great Park Service that we already have, what I think is missing is the linking of something like the health departments, local health experts. The other side of it is the opportunities for promoting partnerships with corporations who could well be very interested in being part of such initiatives.

The funding of this was obviously a trial to begin with, but the success of it is now being taken forward with health insurance companies assisting. So I'm just opening this out there because we have significant large parks already, and obviously of course, we need all the new ones to go with further development, but I think there's a real need to work out why can't we activate a bit more of this cross-disciplinary thinking? So any ideas on that, just getting that started?

Susan Thompson: Yes, I do. I know the program you're talking about. There are connections, there's Doctors for the Environment here. I don't know if you know that group? The AMA has come out with a very firm statement on obesity, and within that statement they acknowledged the role of the built environment in supporting people's health.

There is some really good work being done in local health districts that I know of, where they actually have whole units now focusing on healthy places and spaces. There are some reconstituted or reconstructed GPs out there who are excited about encouraging their, I'll say, their patients to be much more active, to know where the green space opportunities are in their local neighbourhood. I think just having built environment students together with health students in the classroom-

Christine: I'm really impressed to hear you're doing that.

Susan Thompson: Yeah, and we've been doing that since 2007 now. So I think there's a lot to be optimistic about there, not to say we can't do more. We're open aren't we, Helen, for any great opportunities to enhance.

Christine: That's very exciting and I wonder whether one thing that we can do with our various industry groups is promote these good stories that we're hearing about, because I think sometimes in just promoting good examples, especially for local governments and state governments, just giving them the heads up, some examples, I mean that's certainly something we could work on, but it's fantastic to hear the students are getting it. By the time they come out they'll be leading this field. Thank you.
Helen Lochhead: I may take that opportunity to do an advertisement for our faculty. We have a range of new short courses and continuing professional development, and I think we have the hub of something which could be a terrific interdisciplinary CPD course for those environment professionals. I also think that there's some research that could be done, don't you think, in terms of bringing that together-

Susan Thompson: I do, yeah.

Helen Lochhead: ... and modelling in the Australian condition and how we can actually activate healthy built environments in the public domain in a much more holistic sense. So thanks for those two ideas, and that will help us be better at what we do.
So I would really like to thank Susan very, very much for an absolutely interesting and fascinating talk, as usual. Thank you all for joining us.

But before you give her a big round of applause, I just want to do a big promo for our next Learn@Lunch talk, which is by Professor John McGee from Art and Design faculty. He'll be talking about a virtual reality trip inside your body. So put it in your diary on the 12th of September.

In the meantime, if you want to listen to this again this will be available on podcast, and so you can see it through on the USW website, but right now I'd like you all join me in giving Susan a big round of applause.