EU-funded project hopes to turn picturesque Lucca in Tuscany into Europe's first 'Human-animal smart city'
ROME, Dec 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Famed for its renaissance walls and mediaeval towers, the Italian city of Lucca hopes to boost its modern-day appeal by becoming Europe's first pet-friendly "smart city".
An EU-funded initiative aims to nurture residents' well-being by making the Tuscan city an animal-lovers' paradise - with dedicated dog-walking paths and pet-therapy programmes.
"Animals are an essential part of our society but are largely ignored when it comes to (urban) planning," said Francesco Di Iacovo, professor of agricultural economics at Pisa University, who is leading the "Human-animal smart city" scheme.
Other features of the project could include park areas along pathways for residents and their furry friends to rest or mingle and an app showing owners where to find water for thirsty pooches, said Diletta Moretti, an architect working on the plans.
"To improve well-being you need to create something that encourages bonding between man and dog," she said.
Owning a pet has been credited with helping decrease a person's risk of suffering from heart disease as well as with reducing obesity, blood pressure and cholesterol - mainly due to increased physical activity.
Research has also shown the calming effects of pets, which are used in animal-assisted therapy programmes, with a recent University of York study linking pet ownership with better mental health and reduced loneliness during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Yet, cities often deal with animals only as a hygiene issue, with services such as stray control, while little is done to foster interaction with humans - something the Lucca initiative hoped to change, said Di Iacovo.
He said the city was also looking at bringing pets into schools and care homes for the elderly as part of educational and pet-therapy programmes as well as making it easier for people to take their pets to work or on public transport.
"The final goal is to have an integrated animal policy," he said.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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