Active Cities: Tomorrow’s pathway to healthy lifestyles

Written by Maxime Leblanc on 2 February 2018 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Cities are strongholds of sedentary behaviour and unhealthy lifestyles, writes Maxime Leblanc

Active cities can help break the inactivity cycle | Photo credit: Fotolia

Europe’s heart beats across its cityscapes. Today, European urban areas are home to over 75 per cent of its population. The EU’s Urban Agenda strives to build a holistic tomorrow with green, smart and inclusive cities, and yet appears to overlook the potential of Active cities.

Cities have a lot to answer for when it comes to sedentary behaviour and unhealthy lifestyles. Around 210 million Europeans are physically inactive. At an annual cost of €80bn, it’s clear that the financial and human burden of the EU’s sedentary pandemic requires greater consideration and addressing.

One of the main issues is the gap between knowledge and decision-making, as three-quarters of local decision-makers are unaware of this situation - and of their role regarding the inactivity crisis.


Yet, it’s part of their responsibility to protect citizens from the negative impacts of urbanisation. The latest research shows that those city-dwellers that do exercise, do so of their own accord, within urban areas (parks, homes, active commute), as opposed to more traditional sports clubs.

Recent findings also show that environments encouraging human movement are very successful in raising physical activity numbers.

Active cities measure their inactivity levels in order to target physical activity promotion and to facilitate its access.

One of the easiest and most sustainable steps is to ensure that active commutes are safe and trouble-free. Reutilising facilities is cost-effective. Creating an active city roadmap covering all ages and social categories, with the help of citizens, is sure to attract large numbers of people to start moving again.

Improving data collection on activity levels may be more demanding to establish, but will enable policymakers to see the overarching benefits from promoting exercise.

"Active cities can no longer be overlooked. Their role is paramount in breaking the inactivity cycle"

In turn, these numbers witnessing the progress achieved will act as an incentive to redesign movement-friendly areas, and for the active city initiative to outrun the current administration.

All along the way, cross-sector collaboration and multi-level governance should be considered as the golden rules to positive change.

Active cities can no longer be overlooked. Their role is paramount in breaking the inactivity cycle. City policies have a more direct and immediate impact upon their citizens than national or European policies do.

Cities are just as important as their higher authorities. Adjusting urban planning is only a short-term cost that results in long-term economic and social improvements.

About the author

Maxime Leblanc is head of European Affairs at the Sport and Citizenship Think tank

The Sport and Citizenship think tank embarked on a 36-month European project entitled ‘Physical Activity Serving Society (PASS)’. With the support of EUPEA, FESI, ISCA, ICSSPE, Spolint Institute, TAFISA and the European Commission; the PASS project investigated the present status quo of physical activity levels and practices across Europe.

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