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Mueller, Austin; image courtesy of Xuemei Zhu, Ph.D.

Livable Communities: Evaluating the Health Benefits
By Tatyana Brown, Manager, Public Policy

The AIA’s Decade of Design is a commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative to improve public health and support the effective use of natural, economic, and human resources with the power of design. As part of the Commitment, the AIA awarded $40,000 in grants to three university architecture programs in 2012. Among these, a $20,000 grant to Texas A&M University will support the development of a toolkit to measure the health impacts of walkable communities.

The project at Texas A&M focuses on Mueller, a newly built New Urbanist neighborhood of 700 acres in the Austin area. The community includes many activity-friendly design characteristics such as mixed-use development and well-connected street networks; over one fifth of its area is devoted to parks and greenways.

Mueller, Austin; image courtesy of Xuemei Zhu, Ph.D.

Faculty and students from the University’s multidisciplinary Center for Health Systems & Design are examining whether and how living in Mueller increases adults’ physical activity – and how such an impact can best be measured to guide community design and evaluate its outcomes. In the study’s final phase the researchers will also use the findings from Mueller to inform the development of Colony Park, which is being planned as a sustainable and livable mixed-use, mixed-income community through a HUD Community Challenge Planning Grant received by the City.

Mueller, Austin; image courtesy of Xuemei Zhu, Ph.D.

Based on the researchers’ recent qualitative observations, both Mueller’s residents – and those from the surrounding neighborhoods – frequently use Mueller’s outdoor spaces. “More and more communities are using design as a means to promote health,” says the principal investigator Dr. Xuemei Zhu, assistant professor in the College of Architecture and faculty fellow at the Center for Health Systems & Design. “However, the actual health impacts of such design interventions are understudied.”

Results from the project at Texas A&M University are projected to be available in July 2013. They will contribute to Mueller’s continuing development, as well support other efforts to improve community health in the U.S. and abroad.

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