Parks and Leisure Australia is the industry peak body for parks, sport and recreation. As “the people behind the places” its members recognise the importance of investing in the future health of Australians by not only encouraging them to be active, but ensuring the urban environment is one which enables activity.
These five following ideas for an active Australia are just a few examples of their positive suggestions for change:
1. Active and Healthy Economy – Jobs investment
A recent study in Baltimore, USA, found investments in walking and cycling infrastructure generated between 11 and 14 jobs per $1 million, whereas road infrastructure only generated around 7 jobs per $1 million.
Investing in active living is good for the economy, good for the environment (reduced greenhouse gases by encouraging people to walk/ cycle not drive) and good for health (reduced incidence of chronic diseases resulting in reduced direct/ indirect cost to the economy).
2. Focus more on physical activity and less on the weight loss industry
While obesity should continue to be targeted, public health messages should be more focused on enabling people to lead healthier, more active lives. This means urban design that allows for walk/cycle to work or leisure destinations and facilities such as pools, parks, paths and leisure centres. There is even suggestion of GP Green Referrals, a program already operating in Victoria. Medicare rebates could be considered for green exercise/physical activity program participation costs.
3. Health Investment Dividend
More investment in parks, sport and recreation reduces health costs through decreased incidence of morbidity and chronic diseases as well as faster recovery times when people do become unwell. Councils could take back space for people and fund projects that decommission roads and “car corridors” and turn them into “people” corridors supporting public space, active transport and vibrant linear parklands.
4. Be Innovative with Old Infrastructure.
There are fantastic untapped opportunities to retrofit old, decommissioned rail (or road) corridors into walking/ cycling tracks. Their conversion to active trails will not just help to get more people more active, they will spawn economic activity as art, craft, accommodation and old country pubs emerge to service the growing market of cashed up baby boomers and other generations who want more active, short stay, experiential breaks.
5. Move Well
Instead of just funding roads – fund “Moving Well” outcomes- fund bikeways and pathways and bike parking not car parking. Surveys for local government sport and recreation plans consistently identify demands for more, better connected, better lit walk and cycle paths.
Making public spaces, parks, malls, riversides, pathways and open spaces more vibrant, more attractive and more appealing will get more people walking and spending time outdoors.