ABOUT a month ago, Cork was designated a World Health Organisation (WHO) Healthy City for the third time. Two years ago, the WHO may not have seemed enormously relevant to our everyday lives but now, we certainly have a better understanding of their global leadership role in ensuring the health of citizens is at the forefront of political decision making and policy development.
When I first took up my leadership role in Cork City Council, I sought to place a particular focus on how local authorities can shape environments that support individuals and communities to be healthy.
After decades working in the health sector, I could see the potential of preventative healthcare and disease prevention through the creation of healthier urban settings that support active lifestyles, active travel, quality housing and social inclusion.
Cork was first designated a ‘WHO Healthy City’ in 2012 and since then, the ‘Healthy City’ agenda has gained increasing traction across the city and country as we increasingly see the value of putting the health of people and the planet high on the political and social agenda.
Built on a platform of collaboration between the public sector and voluntary sector, Cork City has been a driver of change within this European network for 10 years. Recent developments in Cork include investment in active travel infrastructure like protected cycle lanes and greater pedestrianisation, the Green Spaces for Health initiative which helps maintain green spaces across communities and seeks out new greening opportunities, the URBACT Playful Paradigm Project, which uses play and games to promote social inclusion, healthy lifestyles and placemaking and the PSYCHED Workplace Mental Health Promotion Project which supports staff in workplaces across the city.
Cork has been positioned by Government as the fastest growing city in the country in the next 20 years and is being supported to develop as a city of sustainable urban growth.
Cork City Council’s vision states that we want Cork to take its place as a world class city and we are working to do this by driving local and regional growth, embracing diversity and inclusivity and co- creating a resilient, healthy city with other key players.
Cork City Council’s draft City Development Plan sets out a blueprint for the development of the city from next year until 2028. ‘Our City, Our Future’ provides a transformative blueprint for Cork as the city embarks upon an exciting phase of growth and change – with sustainability, quality of life, social inclusion, and climate resilience at the plan’s core. It is the framework to help shape the transformation of the City over the next six years by supporting the creation of 20,000 homes and 31,000 jobs.
Despite the many challenged posed by the pandemic, Cork is experiencing unprecedented opportunity. At government level, Cork City has up to €1.8 billion in ringfenced central government funding and up to €3.5billion earmarked for the city over 20 years as part of the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS).
There is a visible confidence in our city as evidenced by planned landmark projects such as the €46 million Grand Parade Quarter and the Cork City Docklands, a scheme of international significance that, as Ireland’s largest regeneration project, has already received €355 million from the Government’s Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF).
On the ground, phenomenal work has also been done to meet the needs of our communities during the pandemic. Take for instance two award-winning projects: ‘Sports on the Green’ which won a Chambers Ireland award for Cork City Council and the recognition of our work around biodiversity in city parks by An Taisce.
Earlier this year, with sports curtailed due to public health restrictions, it became apparent that young people, particularly those at risk, were struggling with their mental and physical health. Located in local housing estates, ‘Sports on the Green’ allowed youths to try new sports on their doorstep and thereby promoted physical activity, wellbeing, and resilience at a local level. It also removed barriers to playing sports like cost, time and transport. The scheme was led by Cork City Council, in partnership with multiple stakeholders such as such as Cork Sports Partnership (CSP), National Governing Bodies (NGB), sports clubs, residents’ associations, and Community Gardaí.
Secondly, during the lockdowns of last year and early 2021, we all learnt how important green spaces are to our mental and physical health. You will be delighted to know that last month, two of the city’s parks won green flags from An Taisce Environmental Education for the first time for their efforts to support biodiversity. Receiving two Green Flags for Fitzgerald’s and Shalom Park is testament to the efforts of City Council’s Parks staff, who worked tirelessly to attain the high standards demanded by the Green Flag criteria. Both parks planted pollinator-friendly plants, changed grass cutting regimes to increase native wildflowers, stopped using pesticides and peat in planting, provided areas for invertebrates to thrive and worked alongside local communities to help create pollinator-friendly areas.
As we enter 2022, Cork City Council will continue to work with Government, other stakeholders across the city and our communities to develop the city’s resilience and sustainability and to support the creation of urban settings that support people to live healthier lives.