Wellness has become synonymous with one African city that its outstanding policy on promoting healthy living has been recognized on the world stage. Thanks to its bimonthly car-free day, the City of Kigali was named Public Health Laureate for 2019 Wellbeing City Award.
You won’t get that elsewhere on the continent, where blazing horns and smoke from vehicles has become part of the daily routine.
NewCities, a global non-profit poised to shaping a better urban future, along with Novartis Foundation, Novartis US Foundation, and City of Montréal made the announcement. Indeed, the future of modern cities is typified by reduced emission.
The prestigious Wellbeing City Award is the first international initiative to recognise and honour governments which promotes wellbeing as the core of its urban planning and policy implementation.
Car-free days was introduduced by the City Hall in 2016 and fast becoming part of the Kigali culture.
The city closes certain roads to motorists for several hours, with thousands of citizens jogging or cycling in car-free streets before converging at designated points from collective physical exercises and medical checkups for those interested. Participants are also encouraged to take part in social causes such as donating blood.
“The City of Kigali has been selected for their Kigali Car Free Day. Every first and third Sunday of the month, the citizens of Kigali are encouraged to leave their cars at home and attend a free community event with sports activities and medical check-ups,” reads part of a statement by NewCity issued late in May.
Marie-Chantal Rwakazina, City Mayor, stated that, “We are so excited the City of Kigali has been selected as a laureate of the 2019 Wellbeing City Award in the Public Health category. This is a vote of confidence in Kigali Car Free Day as an activity that promotes healthy living and wellbeing in the city”.
“We thank our citizens who have embraced the Car Free Days and all our partners who have made this innovative activity a success. We shall continue fostering the wellbeing of our citizens and we intend to multiply efforts and expand the Car Free Day,” she added.
John Rossant, NewCities Founder and Chair, said: “Wellbeing is enhanced by bold design, but not founded upon it. The foundation of happy and healthy cities and citizens is proactive policymaking that looks to wellbeing as the central organising principle.”
He said a jury of experts was “delighted to see the very commitment from the City of Kigali.”
“We are seeing an increase in popularity around Car Free Days; however, Kigali is taking it a step further by mobilising the community around activities that promote and increase wellbeing. It is fantastic to see and I congratulate them for being this year’s Public Health laureate – it is well deserved,” he added.
Top government officials, including President Paul Kagame, often participate in Car-Free Days.
Besides the Car-Free Day, Kigali also has a Car-Free Zone, a street in downtown Kigali restricted for motorists. The space is used for social interactions, networking and other social events.
More than 100 cities from 27 countries were considered in the first year of the Award.
Four other cities won in other Wellbeing City Award categories, namely Santa Monica, USA; (Community), Pune, India (Economy and Opportunity); Lisbon, Portugal (Sustainable Environment); and Milan, Italy (Wellbeing City).
The annual award is backed by the City of Montréal, Toyota Mobility Foundation, Transdev, and the US Green Building Council.
It is expected that a formal ceremony acknowledging the Wellbeing City Laureates will be held at The Wellbeing Cities Forum in Montréal next month on June 19-20.