Why this is important?
Characteristics of the built environment can influence both recreational and travel-related physical activity. These characteristics include aesthetic features, proximity of residences to shops and local facilities, presence of footpaths, a safe environment, high density, compact neighbourhoods, convenience and accessibility, lower traffic speeds and volume and access to public transport.(1) For example, the characteristics of residential density, proximity to destinations and grid-like street patterns may make it easier or more pleasant to walk or cycle for transport.(2)
A walkable neighbourhood makes it safe and easy for residents to walk or cycle from home to places they need to go to — such as schools, shops and work. Many studies show that adults living in walkable neighbourhoods are more physically active.(3) Evidence also shows that children engage in more regular, sustained physical activity when they are able to walk or cycle from home to school or other local destinations.(4)
Researchers in the United States analysed 2001-2002 data on neighbourhoods and physical activity from 3,161 children and adolescents living in the Atlanta region. They found young people aged five to 18 years were more likely to walk if they lived in a mixed-use neighbourhood with parks, schools and commercial destinations within one kilometre of where they lived.(4)
Recent Australian research has found having close proximity from home to school, reducing traffic volume, and having footpaths and safe crossing leading to school are important features in encouraging active travel to school. (5)
A review of studies comparing highly walkable and poorly walkable neighbourhoods found residents reported approximately two times more walking trips per week in highly walkable neighbourhoods.(6) In several studies, the availability of and access to bicycle paths and footpaths were also associated with greater levels of physical activity.(7)
Creation of, or enhanced access to, places for physical activity can result in a 25 per cent increase in the number of people who are physically active at least three times per week.(8) Several studies have found that people become more physically active if they have good access to specific places to be physically active — such as parks — and if their neighbourhoods provide a high quality environment for outdoor activity.(9, 10)
The designated use, layout and design of physical structures in communities affect patterns of living (and behaviours) which then influence health. These structures include housing, businesses, transport systems and recreational resources.(11)
A good solution is said to solve multiple problems and this applies to neighbourhood planning. Changes to the built environment can have a positive impact on many health-related issues, from obesity, diabetes and asthma, to traffic safety and community violence. In many cases, a change to the built environment will simultaneously impact multiple health conditions.(12)
- National Heart Foundation of Australia (Victorian Division) 2004, Healthy by Design.
- Williams, C. 2007, The built environment and physical activity: What is the relationship?, Princeton NJ, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
- Saelens B., Sallis J., Frank L. 2003, ‘Environmental Correlates of Walking and Cycling: Findings From the Transportation, Urban Design, and Planning Literatures’, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 80-91.
- Frank, L., Kerr, J., Chapman. J., Sallis, J. 2007, ‘Urban Form Relationships with Walk Trip Frequency and Distance among Youth’, American Journal of Health Promotion, vol. 21, no. 4 supplement, pp. 305-311.
- Wood, G., Giles-Corti, B., McCormick, G., Van Niel, K., Bulsara, M., Timperio, A., Pikora, T., Learnihan, V., Murray, R. 2009, ‘Individual, physical-environmental and socio-cultural factors associated with walking to school in Perth primary school children’, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 12, no. 6, p. 170.
- Saelens, B. and Handy, S. 2008, ‘Built environment correlates of walking: A review’, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 40, no. 7 supplement, s550-s566.
- Humpel N., Owen N., Leslie E. 2002, ‘Environmental Factors Associated with Adults’ Participation in Physical Activity’, American Journal of Preventative Medicine, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 188-199.
- Heath, G.W., Brownson, R.C., Kruger, J., Miles, R., Powell, K.E., Ramsey, L.T. and the Task Force on Community Preventive Services 2006, ‘The Effectiveness of Urban Design and Land Use and Transport Policies to Increase Physical Activity: A Systematic Review’, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, vol. or no. 3, suppl 1, s55-s76.
- Giles-Corti, B., Timperio, A., Bull, F., Pikora, T. 2005, ‘Understanding physical activity environmental correlates: increased specificity for ecological models’,Exercise and Sport Science Review, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 175–81.
- King, W., Brach, J., Belle, S., Killingsworth, R., Fenton, M., Kriska, A. 2003, ‘The relationship between convenience of destinations and walking levels in older women’, American Journal of Health Promotion, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 74–82.
- Davies, L. 2004, Safer Places: The Planning System and Crime Prevention, Communities and Local Government (UK), [Online] Available at:http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/saferplaces
- Gebel, K. et al. 2009, Heart Foundation Position statement: The Built Environment and Walking. Heart Foundation.http://www.heartfoundation.org.au