Active Places

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The ACT is one of few jurisdictions to successfully embed health supportive policy into planning. Elements of healthy living and creating environments that support active living are now supported through statutory requirements, with all new developments and redevelopment in the ACT  required to consider these principles. Rewording of zone objectives, elements, rules, and criteria gives greater priority to active transport (walking and cycling). Previously there were some sections of the Territory Plan that did not even consider these as part of the transport network.

Many of the changes are subtle, but hopefully will have the overarching effect of giving greater priority to active living; including changing the transport user hierarchy to a people-focused approach, enhancing connectivity, ensuring the provision of supportive infrastructure and greater social inclusion through providing spaces and places that are accessible to all people regardless of age, gender or ability.

Strategic planning and policy projects take many years to eventuate, and even more years to be visible on the ground. As background to this policy change – almost 10 years ago, I started work on a project called Healthy Spaces and Places – a guide to inform planners, designers and developers on how to incorporate health considerations into planning and design. This provided a series of 10 design principles, applying to different development types and case studies of developments and programs that encouraged physical activity and active living. Over 3 years ago, the ACT Heart Foundation asked me to provide recommendations on incorporating active living principles into the Territory Plan.

Through a process of interrogating health and design principles that were visible in Healthy Spaces & Places as well as Healthy Active by Design (WA), Healthy by Design (Vic), the National Urban Design Protocol (Cwlth) and NSW Premier’s Council on Active Living, we arrived at 6 active living principles for the ACT under the headings of:

1. Connected Places

2. Open Space,

3. Mixed Land Use and Density,

4. Safe and Attractive Places,

5. Supportive Infrastructure and

6. Environments for All.

The outcomes of the final report to government included 7 key recommendations that encompassed comprehensively incorporating the active living principles (above) throughout the Territory Plan[1]. Areas for further investigation were also identified: including the impact of setbacks and road width requirements on the density and walkability of areas; incorporating natural surveillance and optic permeability in building stairwells; investigating barriers to the development of attached medium density/rise housing; and investigating additional appropriate areas for mixed use zoning in Canberra.

Some of the areas identified for further investigation, such as requirements for the provision of optically permeable stairwells have been included. While other items such as the impact of setbacks and road widths on density and investigating additional areas appropriate for mixed use zoning could still benefit from further interrogation.

Hopefully, continued innovation in planning and development will enhance equitable access to a variety of transport options and create healthier and more liveable environments that prioritise people over cars in the development of our future cities. Reviewing and updating statutory planning instruments to meet current and future demands on our cities, including reducing the impacts of climate change, adapting to changing households and lifestyle preferences will ensure that we are creating the places our children and grandchildren will want to live in. Planning is one of the best long term ways to ensure these future needs are met and contributes to better cities and regions.


[1] The Territory Plan is the key statutory planning document in the ACT, providing the policy framework for the administration of planning in the ACT. The purpose of the Territory Plan is to manage land use change and development in a manner consistent with strategic directions set by the ACT Government, Legislative Assembly and the community. It must not be inconsistent with the National Capital Plan. The Territory Plan includes a statement of strategic directions, a map (the Territory Plan Map) which sets out zones and precincts in the ACT, objectives and development tables applying to each zone, and a series of general, development and precinct codes. It also includes structure plans and concept plans

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