The City of Kigali has been named Public Health Laureate for 2019 Wellbeing City Award, thanks to the cities' bimonthly car-free day.
The award was announced Thursday by NewCities, a global non-profit committed to shaping a better urban future, along with Novartis Foundation, Novartis US Foundation, and City of Montréal.
The prestigious Wellbeing City Award is the first international initiative to recognise and honour city governments that place wellbeing at the centre of urban planning and policymaking.
The award, classified under the Public Health category, is reserved for the most progressive and innovative ideas that drive positive changes in cities - large and small - through events, research and urban innovation projects.
Introduced in 2016 by the City Hall, car-free days have increasingly become popular among Kigalians and the practice has since been introduced many districts across the country.
On car-free days, certain roads are closed off 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.
Officials tout car-free day events as not only healthy for citizens - since physical activity helps to prevent Non-Communicable Diseases - but they also contribute toward green growth efforts.
"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 Thursday.
Marie-Chantal Rwakazina, City Mayor, said: "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.
The Wellbeing City Award is the first global award recognizing city-led action on urban wellbeing.
NewCities says it "creates a global dialogue and curates cutting-edge knowledge on the world's most progressive urban issues to generate and scale ideas and solutions".