The health impact of walkable community design

"We ought to plan the ideal of our city with an eye to four considerations. The first, as being the most indispensable, is health." — Aristotle, Politics (ca. 350 B.C.)

Walkability works.

That is the conclusion of a 2014 study of the Mueller neighborhood in Austin, Texas, a community that was designed to encourage greater physical activity through the use of high-density housing, well-connected street networks with complete sidewalks, and plentiful open spaces.

The study by a Texas A&M University research team concluded that Mueller’s “New Urbanism” design led not only to more walking and biking by its residents, but also to greater social interaction and neighborhood cohesiveness. The conclusions were based on a survey of 229 residents about their levels of activity before and after moving to Mueller and their perceptions about their community.

The study is valuable to us as designers and architects because it examines the real impact on residents who move into an area designed to promote walkability.  While an increasing number of communities are using “walkable design” as a means to promote residents’ health, very few studies before this one have examined the actual health effects of moving into walkable communities.

The authors noted the study’s limitations, which included a relatively small sample size, and possible over-representation of female and non-Hispanic residents.  Despite these limitations, they concluded that the study “provided promising evidence about the potential impacts of walkable communities on improving people’s physical and social activities.”

This resource was submitted in conjunction with a national professional conference, The Value of Design: Design & Health, held in Washington, D.C., April 22–24 2014.

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