NHS To Create Healthy New Towns

The UK is currently home to 22 new towns housing around 2 million people.  The idea of such a town is succinctly put on Wikipedia; they were built to decongest larger industrialized cities, rehousing people in freshly built, new and fully planned towns that were completely self-sufficient and provided for the community.

However, a criticism of the new town scheme is that they result in communities housed in a sterile environment with no emotional core or architectural heart.  When one wanders into one of Britain’s great cities (and this may be an unfair comparison, yes), they are met with diversity not just of the buildings but of their uses.  Within close proximity there could be a market, next to a church, next to a restaurant, next to a technology development company.

New towns were not designed to achieve this beautiful madness.  They were designed to achieve a beauty based on open space and trees.  They are planned to be zoned with an area for commerce, and area for housing, an area for play…

But the thing about new towns is that they have always been built to deal with the problems of today.  Milton Keynes was designed in a grid system with national speed limit dual carriage ways and no traffic lights.  It was designed to make commuting and driving a car around it as easy as possible.  Nowadays, we want to take cars off the streets and promote the use of public transport as an enabler to a greener and more sustainable life.

The new plan is for the NHS to work with developers on 10 sites in England containing a total of 76,000 houses, with the expectation that 160,000 people will live in these estates (that’s about 0.003% of the population currently).  The main goals appear to be to reduce the country’s obesity pandemic as well helping people with dementia.

Some of the development highlights found readily in the press over the last week to achieve these aims sound good, and I think any experiment aiming to improve a populations health is well worth while.  Some of the ideas, such as the removal of fast food restaurants and the introduction of signs to help those with dementia get around are ideas that are known to help currently and could, arguably, be implemented now.

However, I worry from the little I know that these new health towns will fall to the same fate as their predecessors.  Taking one example from each of the obesity and dementia proposals…

According to The Telegraph:

Health chiefs say they will help developers consider: “Why are children happy to walk all day round a theme park but often get bored on every-day journeys? Could adventure areas be designed into streets to encourage walking and play?”

The answer to this, surely, is that a visit to a theme park is an unusual event – something that happens only occasionally. There’s that phrase that familiarity breeds contempt.  I’ve heard of bands stopping to play old material at live gigs because they’re simply bored of it.  At the end of a walk in a theme park is a ride and a thrill.  It’s the destination that is important to the child, not the journey.

The Daily Mail (look, I’m sorry, but I was trying to read as much as I could to provide an informed opinion!) report that one of the ways being suggested to improve the lives of dementia patients is to build 1960’s themed cafes to increase familiarity of surroundings.

I just wonder if these two specific initiatives (possibly not indicative of every suggested innovation) will mirror the inability to evolve already seen in the existing new towns of the past.  The adventure to the destination needs to be applicable to a wide age range and needs to change to keep attention and avoid any aspect of “I know I can do that obstacle course and I’m getting no better at it so I may as well drive because doing that is new and exciting”.  A 1960’s themed cafe is familiar to those who grew up in the 60’s, but won’t be in a half a century’s time when the people the town is trying to help grew up in a later decade.

The other issue of dealing with the now is what appears to be ever changing health advice or opposing health advice.  We know that binge drinking is bad (did anyone else just think of South Park?), but then red wine became good for you and now it’s not again.  The computer games this scheme wants to stop children playing to encourage them to go outside could actually help long term mental health.

I think the news of these new towns is really interesting and, in all honesty, it’s something that I would love to be involved in if it were not for my lack of any relevant skills or experience!  It’s also, on the face of it, a much better investment than the £3.5m spent on The One You advertising campaign that has been criticised for being patronising by telling people what they already know but choose to ignore as a way to shift blame for their health issues.  I’ll be keeping an eye on it with great interest in the hope it can be a success.

England is ill and it is not alone
I heard it through the tinny speakers on a cameraphone
The things you hear and the things you see
Are amplified into a ca-ca-cacophony
The lost identity in my dream before
I ride the local train, I’m not above the law

Serendipity puts away with me
Houdini couldn’t escape from me

I wouldn’t bet my life (He wouldn’t bet his life)
Maybe things will change tomorrow
I wouldn’t bet my life (You would be mad to try)
Maybe things will change tomorrow

The daily grind, the moral wealth
A potrait of the national health

England is sick and I’m a casualty
I’m in a constant state of flux in terms of what to be
We generalise and we live inside
I feel we’re heading for a ca-ca-catastrophe
The lost identity in my dream before
I ride the local train, I’m not above the law
Serendipity took ahold of me
Fellini couldn’t have dreamt of this

I wouldn’t bet my life (He wouldn’t bet his life)
Maybe things will change tomorrow
I wouldn’t bet my life (You would be mad to try)
Maybe things will change tomorrow

The daily grind, the moral wealth
The family binds by means of stealth
A portrait of the national health

Did you hear? (You what?)
I went down to the council today (What did they say?)
They sent me away (No way!)
My word holds no sway (Who’s to blame?)
You are… (Oh yeah?)
I guess I couldn’t be tamed

The daily grind, the moral wealth
The family binds by means of stealth
A portrait of the national health!

The National Health by Maximo Park

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