ULI Turkey: Interview with Ed McMahon

ULI Turkey interviewed ULI Senior Resident Fellow Ed McMahon, who discussed ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative.

Could you please tell us a little about yourself?

I am a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Washington, DC. ULI is an international research and education organizations that works to foster best practices in land use and development. I have a background in law, public policy and city planning. My interest in city planning grew out of my experience living in Europe early in my career. I believe that “to travel, is to learn” and that is what we try to do at ULI: to learn from each other and share best practices around the world.

What kind of places are we talking about when we say ‘healthy places’?

We have long known that the built environment affects people’s health and well-being. How we design and build our cities can affect the quality of our air and water, the number of auto accidents and pedestrian injuries, how much physical activity get and more. For example, when I was a child, most American children walked to school, but then we moved our schools out of our neighborhoods to large tracts of land on the edge of town. This meant that children had to take buses to school. One result of this was increasing obesity rates among young people.

What is the importance of healthy places?

Healthy places are good for everybody. They are good for business, good for the environment and good for people.

How would you describe the reaction to the Building Healthy Places initiative?

People everywhere are concerned about their health, our Building Healthy Places Initiative has been well received by people in all parts of the world.

In your opinion, does Turkey have healthy places?

Some of the factors that contribute to healthy places are walkable neighbourhoods, interconnected streets, an abundance of parks and green spaces, a mix of uses. These are the kinds of places that Turkey historically built, so yes Turkey is and can be a leader in the healthy places movement.

Having a culture and identity makes a place more valuable. How can cities preserve their identities?

Having a distinctive cultural and identity is more important than ever in a rapidly homogenizing world. Just think about tourism, for example, the more Turkish cities and towns come to look and feel just like every place else, the less reason there would be to visit. The unique characteristics of place may be the only truly defensible source of competitive advantage in a world where capital is footloose. What’s more “place” is more than a spot on the map. It is, I believe, explicitly that which makes our physical surroundings worth caring about. Cities can preserve their identities by identifying and protecting their historic buildings, neighbourhoods and landscapes. And by encouraging new development that fits in with the old.

Where does sustainability fit in while talking about healthy places?

If you look up the definition of the word “sustainable” in the dictionary, you will see that it means “enduring”. Sustainable communities are places of enduring value. Sustainability is also about the triple bottom line creating places that are good for people, good for the environment and good for business. Healthy places are all three.

What is the responsibility of people, governments, institutions, and companies to create healthy places?

We now know that builders, developers and city officials can be  more effective that doctors in achieving public health by creating places that make the healthy choice the easy choice.

How does creating healthy places impact the economy?

Our research shows that healthy places are good for the economy. For example, if a city designs a new park, the value of all the land near the park will increase. This is because people all over the world are willing to pay to live near healthy green spaces. For example, the most valuable land in New York City is the land next to Central Park.

Many people nowadays have this dream of moving to a more livable place. What are the criteria to understand what constitutes a healthy, livable cities? Could you give us some tips?

Healthy places are walkable places. Over the past 100 years, we have learned that if you design a community around cars, you will simply get more cars, but if you design a community around people, you will get more people. Walking is a miracle drug. Creating places where people can safely walk or ride bicycles is good for health, good for real estate value and good for the environment.

Finally, can Istanbul be a healthy city?

Istanbul has always been one of the world’s great cities. It has a great history, great people and great resources. It needs to invest in creating more healthy walkable places, because why would anyone invest in a community that wouldn’t invest in itself?