Houses, Homes & Health

The findings of a recent study by researchers from the University of Washington, which estimates obesity levels in urban populations by interrogating a city’s infrastructure, uses AI and deep learning to measure the effects of our urban environment on human health. The initial findings, which have been subjected to a number of validation tests to account for wealth inequity etc, make a direct link between the amount of green space/ recreational public space available to citizens and their health, specifically the likelihood of becoming obese. The data driven link between the built environment and obesity must surely set alarm bells ringing in a country where we grapple with both a housing crisis and an obesity epidemic.

As a €1billion euro tender was announced last week by Dublin City Council to construct new rapid build houses to address its social housing deficit it occurred to me that in the current crisis we have become obsessed with the number of housing units which will be delivered but it is rare that we hear discussions about the homes that these houses will become or the amenities which are needed to support these new or densified communities. There is an implied contract between Citizen and Government when one chooses to live in a city or large town, where most of these houses & apartments will be constructed, that in exchange for smaller homes, higher densities and limited private open space that the City will provide an adequate level of amenity space for children & young adults to play, learn & congregate and families & older generations to meet and relax as well as a safe means of accessing these spaces locally on foot or by bike.

In Dublin, a report commissioned by the City Council (Liberties Greening Strategy – 2014) estimated that the provision of amenity space in the South Inner City was approximately 84% below the minimum international recommendation for healthy & sustainable communities. Recent projects such as Weavers Park and upcoming projects, like Bridgefoot Street Park, the Park and Playing pitches at St Theresa’s Gardens & the proposed Linear Park beside the new Childrens Hospital, are starting to address the historic deficit however it is entirely plausible the these welcome gains will be nullified by increased housing densities.

More focus needs to be given both in Dublin & nationally to the spaces between the houses and apartments which we will build in the coming years to ensure the health and sustainability of our new and expanding communities now and into the future. If we fail to do so then all the indications are that we will, as a society, pay the price for generations to come.

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