There is More to Walking than Two Feet and a Heartbeat

Submitted by connor@tamarack... on July 27, 2017 - 5:29am

There has been a topic that has come up in my studies and during my time here with Tamarack; Walkability. This blog will be a base-line explanation of Walkability with some real-life examples. The intention of this blog is for myself to learn more on the topic and hopefully you will learn something as well. 

Walkability is a crucial component to sustainable design that measures how friendly a community, neighbourhood or city is to walking (1). To find out the Walkability, you can use tools like Walk Score that allow you to type in an address and find out that locations walkability score. 

I will be providing three examples that I found on a local house listing website in Waterloo. The first will be an apartment that is in a very dense urban area. The second example will be a house in a sub-urban neighbourhood on the edge of waterloo. The final example will be a house in an urban neighbourhood. 

  1. 504-8 Hickory Street West, Waterloo

When inputted into Walk-Score, this apartment yielded an impressive 78/100 overall Walkability score. Most errands required can be easily completed on foot. As you can see below, there are a lot of different food, entertainment and shopping options that are within walking distance. 

A tenant does not need a car to travel to areas that are essential, meaning that this area is very walking friendly. If tenants do need to get somewhere that is not in walking distance, there are several public transportation options close by. Along with Walkability, Walk-Score has a transit score, which is a metric out of 100 that measures how many different transit options are available in walking distance. This transit score can be seen in the picture below along with the available bus routes.

 

       2. 309 Sweet Gale Street, Waterloo

When this address was put into Walk-Score, it yielded a measly 1/100.  This means that essentially every errand that the average individual must do will be by car. These results are not surprising because sub-urbs are built on the outskirts of cities. Sub-urban neighbourhoods are usually within a dense network of streets that can take upwards of 10 minutes to leave the neighbourhood.

Along with a low Walk-ability score, this neighbourhood has a low transit score due to limited public transit options. If people in this area want to travel, they need to use their own vehicle.

 

   3. 260 Bowman Street, Waterloo

This house is in an urban neighbourhood that is close to Uptown Waterloo, a popular shopping, tourist and food location in the city. When submitted into Walk-score, it resulted in a walkability score of 65/100. Some important locations are accessible by walking, but people in the area will still have to use either public transit or their own vehicle to get to certain places.

This location has access to necessities and access to public transit, giving it a high transit score to match its walkability score.

So, we’ve covered three different examples of urban design. Now we need to go into the implications of each design. Now I should say, that these places are all probably lovely places to live in, but the Walk-score is a good indicator for health, sustainability and more. 

Walkability is also a good indicator for if the built-in environment is obesogenic. An obesogenic environment has features that encourage inactivity and has limited access to nutritious food (2). Granted, there is a long list of factors that influence obesogenic environments, but for the sake of time, I am only covering the built-in environment. 

Comparing the three examples above, it easy to tell which one fosters an obesogenic environment. The house in the sub-urbs is heavily dependent on cars to complete everyday tasks, so physical activity in these areas for the most part is going to be lower than inner urban areas. This isn’t to say that moving to an urban neighbourhood is the end all to cure all, urban areas have their own faults. Urban areas with a lot of apartments may be centralized and have good walkability scores, but they don’t have a lot of green space in the immediate area. 

So, what does this all mean? Well, this just further shows that our health and well-being are influenced by things that we don’t have control over. This also shows that their needs to be inter-collaboration between multiple sectors during urban planning. Walkability is just one factor that can influence our health, but it’s easy to see the impact. 

This also relates to the work of Deepening Communities. The more walkable a neighbourhood is, the more people will be out of their houses and possibly interacting with their neighbours. A walkable community is something that is wanted by all ages and will promote an inclusive environment. The more people that are out and moving will encourage intergenerational interaction and reduce the feeling of loneliness. 

It doesn’t matter if you work for a non-for profit that focuses on community engagement, a medical professional, or a resident in a neighbourhood. The walkability of a community is something that should be on everyone’s minds.

 

References

1. Victoria Transportation Institute. Walkability Improvements - Strategies to make Walking Convient, Safe and Pleasant [Internet]. [Updated on 18 July, 2017]. Available from: http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm92.htm

2. He M, Tucker P, Irwin JD, Gilliland J, Larsen K, Hess P. Obesogenic neighbourhoods: the impact of neighbourhood restaurants and convenience stores on adolescents’ food consumption behaviours. Public health nutrition. 2012 Dec;15(12):2331-9.

 

Further Reading: 

  1. The 'C' In Canada Stands for Caring by Vickie Cammack
  2. Why Citizens Should Prepare for Emergencies and How to Do It by Sylvia Cheuy 
  3. Community Change Institute - Cities of the Future - Co-creating Tomorrow