OPINION: Clean Air Day has potential to go further, says Paths for All chief

Ian Findlay is Chief Officer of Paths for All, Scotland’s walking charity which partners with 30 national organisations and aims to significantly increase the number of people who choose to walk in Scotland. Here he argues the case for Clean Air Day’s success.

EDINBURGH’S The Mound was closed off in the biggest show yet of the city’s support for Clean Air Day.

 The day itself serves as a timely annual reminder that the vital air around us carries harmful chemicals that can be hugely damaging to our health.

Radical plans to change UK towns and cities are frequently brought to the forefront of discussions on days like today – and Edinburgh City Council’s laudable proposals to pedestrianise key parts of our city centre will undoubtedly cause consternation for some.

However, sceptics should be encouraged to appreciate that these admirable plans not only help the bid to transform the air that the nation breathes, but also enable a revolution in the way a city uses transport to approach social, mental and physical health.

Quite understandably, the rhetoric around Clean Air Day can have such a strong focus on the serious issue of air quality and respiratory health that many of its other benefits and potential outcomes can be overlooked.

Our current ways of city living see a great number of us sitting in traffic as we make our way across town. But if we were to choose instead to use our paths and streets more often, for walking or for cycling, we would undoubtedly become not just a healthier nation, but a happier one, too.

Simply walking rather than driving, for example, is a lifestyle choice that can do a great number of things for our wellbeing – it can help to manage a healthy weight, alleviate symptoms of depression, delay the onset of dementia, prevent cancer and even combat loneliness, to name just a few.

Indeed, one of the most important aspects of Clean Air Day is that it promotes the initiative to develop environments that encourage walking or cycling as a form of travel. Fit for purpose environments are an incredibly powerful weapon against ill health, obesity and health inequality in Scotland.

And walking makes economic sense too, as money is saved on fuel, road tax and vehicle repairs, while it also increases footfall for local businesses.

So, it’s essential that, this Clean Air Day, we open discussions about how we can go about incorporating walking into more government plans for low emission zones.

Although, ultimately, the movement towards active travel has to start with the individual, we welcome the recognition from Edinburgh and other councils across Scotland that the solution to tackling high carbon emissions in the heart of the capital is intrinsically linked with inactivity.

With the space that Edinburgh City Council has dedicated to Clean Air Day in its calendar, and the spotlight that has been shone on this year’s event, Edinburgh is now leading the way in Scotland as it looks to follow in the footsteps of successful pedestrian and bike-friendly cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

So let’s hope that the council’s bold move of closing off part of the city to vehicles, opens it up not just to more pedestrians, but to a new way of thinking.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read: Active travel – a vision for the future

IMAGE CREDITS: Paths for All/The Holyrood Partnership

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