Water Tower | La Porte City, IA

How Your Health Can be Influenced by Community

Andrew Bremer, AICP | with 0 Comments

How Your Health Can be Influenced by Community

In a previous blog post, we reviewed the importance of “walkability” in street design. But we did not mention the connection between walkability with community health. 
The abandonment of walking as a primary mode of transportation in this country over the past 50 years is closely correlated with the rise in obesity over that period.  Consider this graph comparing obesity rates to active transportation use (walking, biking, transit) in various developed countries.  It is not a coincidence that the US has both the highest percentage of trips taken by car and also the highest percentage of obesity. 
Street designs that encourage walking and biking are one important step toward a healthier future, but we need to do more than that.  We also need to look at our land use and development decisions. A study conducted by a team of scholars at the University bike of Utah measured the sprawl of communities based on four factors: development density, land use mix, activity centering and street accessibility.
Communities that were spread out rated lower in the four factors and were connected to negative health outcomes like higher physical inactivity, traffic accidents, obesity and poor air quality. However, communities that were more compactly structured, encouraged residents to walk and bike, and provided healthier modes of transportation rated positive health outcomes.
There is a growing list of studies that show places with more networked sidewalks, fewer driving lanes, more parks and closer shopping centers all positively contribute to your health, as it relates to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
Many communities are beginning to recognize these linkages and invest in their health by investing in community design.  Consider the Village of Rothschild, Wis., where MSA is helping to redevelop an aging commercial area next to the Wisconsin River. We devised a plan for improvements to the land use mix, the transportation network, and a park on the river.  The entire redevelopment plan won a national award from the American Planning Association.
For more information on community planning and development services to enhance healthy living for your residents, contact MSA's Andrew Bremer.

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