Urban planners have a new weapon they can use to fight for more walkable cities: a 10-year study from Australia that says designing pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods directly improves the health of the local community. It's common sense, but this is the largest major study giving concrete proof of how much of a difference good design can make for health.
For every nearby shop, neighbors walked around 5 minutes more per week. More shops? More walking. Local parks made even more of a difference; if someone lived near a park or beach, they walked 21 minutes more every week. Nearby public transportation and other services also help increase exercise and all of the associated benefits of better health.
The study looked at 1,400 residents who relocated to new housing developments in Melbourne, examining their behavior before and after moving. It's a huge, comprehensive study, but it would be interesting to see even more data from other cities around the world. Given the popularity of 'quantified self' apps and tools like the Nike FuelBand that are already tracking how much exercise people get, it seems like the type of data that could easily be crowdsourced and analyzed.
We already know that walkable neighborhoods have higher home values and, in the United States, people now want a walkable neighborhood more than a big house. The more proof we have of the benefits of walkable neighborhoods, the more likely that local policy will require pedestrian-friendly design.
Pedestrian image via Shutterstock