Shape our City, one street at a time

October 04 2018
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A new UWE project is working with artists and community organisations to creatively engage the public on issues around healthy urban development. A team from the project has recently been in Barton Hill listening to local people’s ideas on how to improve the area.

Cities are fascinating places to live. And Bristol is no exception. It frequently makes the top-spot for ‘best place to live in the UK’, due to its ‘small city that feels like big city’ vibe, with beautiful scenery, green rolling hills and easy connections to the countryside. It is also overflowing with creativity, from its industries to its thriving arts scene. Most people you speak with say they love living here! Yet despite all the praise, Bristol has many inescapable health issues. Chronic air pollution, growing levels of inequality linked with malnutrition and obesity, fly tipping, drug use, crime, increasing rent and house prices… there is a lot these Top 10 lists forget to consider.

When talking about who should address these issues the response may be ‘it’s their responsibility’ – whoever ‘their’ is. In reality, we all have a part to play in the health of our city. We cannot blame any one person because the design of our cities often make it hard for us to make the healthy choices.

Take food. If you live in a poor household then statistically you are less likely to have access to fresh food in your area and have increased exposure to food high in fat, salt and sugar. In an average day, we are exposed to 100s of food adverts, from billboards to supermarket promotions and TV ads, and may walk or drive past dozens of fast food shops – if you live in a poor part of the city this number will often be higher. Clearly it’s not just free choice here, the design of our cities and regulations are important factors in determining our health.

For a growing number of Bristolians, they have to make daily trade-offs about what to prioritise for their health. In a recent Bristol Mag article one person was quoted as saying: “Food has to come low on the list of priorities in my household, the same as it does for so many others. Rent has to be paid, or my family will be hungry and homeless, rather than just hungry…”

With the health challenges continuing to mount, especially among the poorest of society, it feels like we are almost at breaking point. Something has to give.

So what can we do about it?

This year UWE Bristol launched Our City Our Health (OCOH) to ask the public just that. Over the past year, they have been gathering public opinion to feed back to researchers and city decision makers so health is prioritised in cities.

Keen to think outside the box when having these conversations, they drew on Bristol’s creative talents. They commissioned Luke Jerram to create Inhale, a giant diesel-soot particle to visualise air pollution and commissioned a graffiti artist to paint a Park Replacement Service so we could imagine what life might be like without green space to roam. They even worked with residents and artist Andy Council to produce their Shape Our City consultation, which allows you to step inside the shoes of decision makers and trade-off health priorities with a limited city budget. There is still time to have your say. Head to: bit.ly/shapeourcity.

Above: Park replacement service

Sophie, the project coordinator says: “OCOH is not only influencing decision makers; it is a campaign to encourage the public to take a more active role in city decision making. Most of us are aware that our neighbourhoods are rough around the edges but there is a real sense in Bristol that we are prepared to pick up a sander and smooth out the diamonds. We’re here to offer the sanders!”

So in addition to gathering ideas for a better Bristol, the project is helping to put these ideas into action in Barton Hill and Lawrence Weston – two areas where poverty levels are higher than the Bristol average.

In July OCOH organised a lunch at Barton Hill Settlement, with lunch provided by a local women’s group. Over 50 people came along to share food and recipe ideas and discuss their health priorities for change. Several eager children then led a banner walk around the neighbourhood, with their parents pointing out all of the things that make the area an unhealthy place to live. Based on these conversations, the project is now connecting local residents with UWE’s Hands On Bristol to address some of these health challenges. A similar event happened a month later at Blaise Weston Retirement home.

Above: Local lunch

“Architecture students are being set a design challenge and must work with the residents to create an action that improves the health of the area based on their priorities. They’ll also create a toolkit for other residents in Bristol, showing them the steps they need to take to create their own action,” explains Sophie. The challenge began this month and will end in late November with a party in each neighbourhood to celebrate. Keep an eye on their social media to find out when @ShapeOurCity

For more information about the project visit: bit.ly/OurCityOurHealth, or contact Sophie on Sophie.laggan@uwe.ac.uk