University of Calgary

Why walkability is important

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The 2008 Pixar animated film WALL-E looked 800 years into the future to a time where trash-covered Earth is abandoned.

The remaining population has been evacuated to fully automated starliners where every whim is catered to, and there is no need for anyone to get out of their chair. These humans have become morbidly obese.

A scary part of this movie is that it hints at where our neighbourhoods might be going. Design of neighbourhoods is both a planning and a public health issue.

Neighbourhood form and walkability have been shown to correspond to certain health measures, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

For some time, planners and urban designers have been advocating the creation of urban form that has a fine-grained mix of uses, that includes the qualities of permeability, legibility, and variety of open space types, and that supports the activity of walking.

However, much recent research has confirmed that we’re headed in the wrong direction.

The form of contemporary cities and suburbs has had a negative impact on the amount of physical activity, particularly walking and cycling, that is possible.

Walking is the simplest mode of physical activity for most people, and is undertaken for both leisure and transportation purposes — going for a walk as well as going to the store. Walking is a low-intensity activity, requiring lower levels of fitness than other more vigorous forms of physical activity, and does not require special equipment or facilities.

It is an activity that is possible for many to take part in, however, it does require a supportive environment in the form of neighbourhood structure and land uses.

Click here to read Professor Beverly Sandalack's full article in the Calgary Herald.