When Communities Get More “Compact & Connected,” Kids Get Healthier

Apr 15, 2013 - 3:31 pm

Here’s one of the top five recommendations from a major new federal Midcourse Report:  “Build the physical environments of cities, towns and neighborhoods to encourage physical activity.”  Say, that’s exactly what Imagine Austin calls for!

Below is the “Built Environment” section from the Midcourse Report (p. 16).

Built Environment
The built environment includes the physical form of communities including urban design (how a city is designed; its physical appearance and arrangement), land use patterns (how land is used for commercial, residential and other activities), and the transportation system (the facilities and services that link one location to another).

Changes in this setting are important because they offer the potential to increase activity for all youth, not only those who participate in specific programs or activities, which may be affected by socioeconomic factors. The features of the built environment most relevant to physical activity in youth include parks and recreation facilities, transportation systems, and urban planning aspects, such as sidewalks and local zoning decisions.

Research suggests that youth active transportation  (i.e., walking or biking to school or other destinations)  is influenced by aspects of the built environment, including neighborhood walkability, provision of sidewalks, and reasonable distances for youth to walk or bike to school.

Evidence is suggestive that modifying aspects of the built environment can increase physical activity among youth, particularly:
•Improving the land-use mix to increase the number of walkable and bikeable destinations in neighborhoods.
Increase residential density so that people can use methods other than driving to reach the places they need or want to visit.
• Implementing traffic-calming measures, such as traffic circles and speed bumps.

Evidence also suggests that changes in the following may increase activity in children:
• Increasing access to, density of, and proximity to parks and recreation facilities.
• Improving walking and biking infrastructure, such as sidewalks, multi-use trails, and bike lanes.
• Increasing walkability (a pattern of community design that facilitates walking to local destinations).
• Improving pedestrian safety structures, such as traffic lights.