August 13, 2014

Walkable communities are better for your health

Latest data on how walkable communities are better for your health: "More compact and connected street networks with fewer lanes on the major roads are correlated with reduced rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease among residents," according to research published in the Journal of Transport & Health.

Imagine that: If you don't have to drive everywhere but instead can walk or bike, you're likely to be healthier.

"The study also found a correlation between wider streets with more lanes and increased obesity and diabetes rates," says a University of Colorado-Denver press release about the study. "The reason, the researchers said, was that wider streets may be indicative of an inferior pedestrian environment.  The presence of a 'big box' store also tends to be indicative of poor walkability in a neighborhood and was associated with a 13.7 percent rise in obesity rates and a 24.9 percent increase in diabetes rates."

The study controlled for food environment, land uses, commuting time, socioeconomic status and street design.

"Physical activity is not just concerted exercise time and deliberate recreation. It’s about ways of life," notes The Atlantic in an article about this data.

April 17, 2014

Suburbs don't appeal: Young adults want more urban environments

Suburbs are losing their young adult population as the number of 25- to 44-year-olds are declining -- especially in affluent communities, says this article in the New York Times looking at US Census data.

Is it because this generation simply doesn't want a lifestyle that revolves around the automobile? Or are they just delaying their move to the 'burbs by marrying and starting families later? Hard to say from the data alone, but one thing is clear: If suburban communities want to attract and keep young adults, they need to provide a lifestyle that doesn't require a car for every errand. Some tactics:
Long Beach, N.Y., with a year-round population of 33,000, has also been refreshing its downtown near the train station over the last couple of decades. The city has provided incentives to spruce up signage and facades, remodeled pavements and crosswalks, and provided more parking. A smorgasbord of ethnic restaurants flowered on Park Avenue, the main street.
Which makes Framingham's long-overdue downtown facelift well times. Without an appealing streetscape, places to walk to and public transportation, it will be tough to attract 25- to -44-year-old middle-class residents to live downtown.

July 1, 2013

Recipe for revitalizing public spaces

How do you deal with an urban space that's "become known for petty crime, drugs, and homelessness"? That was the issue facing an area of Boston Common of Park and Tremont streets. In Brewer Plaza, Reborn, the Boston Globe's Renee Loth outlines how now visitors are flocking to the area to enjoy this "outdoor living room," thanks to work by both the city of Boston and non-profit Friends of the Public Garden.

The recipe for success "is a case study in what makes some public spaces work and others wither," Loth writes. Among the ingredients?

* Not trying to get rid of unsavory characters but "figuring out a way to flood the area with the people you do want there," former project manager Ted Furst told Loth.

* Renovating a fountain, improving landscaping and lighting -- things that the short-sighted view as frills but are absolutely essential to creating an appealing public space.

* Movable furniture, allowing people to decide how to group the seating and whether it's in sun or shade.

* Programming entertainment and attracting food trucks.

If you're at all interested in maximizing the potential of public space, this piece is well worth a read.

March 10, 2013

Sprawl leads to more pedestrian deaths as well as fewer walkers

Greater sprawl leads to a higher pedestrian death rate  -- not jusr fewer people out walking. From the New York Times:

Urban sprawl comes with numerous liabilities, among them, as it happens, a heightened risk of pedestrian death, which may not seem entirely obvious given that you are infinitely more likely to see people walking around Manhattan than you are to see people walking around Atlanta. Data in a coming report from the National Institutes of Health indicate that for every 1 percent increase in a city’s compactness index, essentially a measure of its density, there is a 1.9 percent drop in the pedestrian fatality rate, adjusted for exposure. The more miles traveled by car in a particular place, the greater the chance of accident, as Reid Ewing, the report’s lead researcher and a professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, said.

January 9, 2013

5 years of traffic fatalities visualized

These data visualizations of traffic deaths include several showing deaths involving pedestrians. One clear pattern: Pedestrian risk rises sharply around dusk