The health benefits of walkable neighbourhoods
With the United Nations projecting that, “the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050, with close to 90% of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa,” it’s evident that urban planners have their work cut out for them in terms of shaping the walkable cities of the future.
One urban design concept that’s gained considerable traction over the past few years – although it’s been around far longer than that – is walkability. And it makes sense, given the many health benefits (among several other benefits) it offers to inhabitants of suburbs and cities.
“First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.” – Jan Gehl
Walkable neighbourhoods and cities – those typically designed around people rather than vehicles, where apartments, shopping areas and business premises are located within walking distance of one another, and green spaces and public spaces are prioritised – are specifically designed to encourage walking (and cycling) over driving.
It is perhaps unsurprising then that a 2016 study published in The Lancet and quoted on Fast Company found that “People who live in walkable neighborhoods that are densely populated, have interconnected streets, and are close to shops, services, restaurants, public transport, and parks tend to be more physically active than residents of less walkable areas.”
As we know, there are numerous health benefits to regular exercise. Perhaps the most significant of these, given the current focus on comorbidities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, is that it has been shown to prevent and help manage several serious health problems, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and stroke.
Regular exercise is also strongly recommended for anyone aiming to shed a few kilos. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in September 2008, and reported on by WebMD, found that “Based upon the analysis, a man of average height and weight who lived in the most walkable neighborhood in Salt Lake County would be expected to weigh an average of 10 pounds less than a man living in the least walkable neighborhood. For women, the difference would be 6 pounds.”
“…each additional hour spent in a car per day was associated with a 6% increase in the odds of being obese, while each additional kilometer walked per day was associated with a 4.8% reduction in the odds of being obese. – R.E. Andersen, 2003; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996
Walkable neighbourhoods are not only good for physical wellbeing, but mental health too. Aside from the fact that exercise plays a key role in reducing levels of stress and anxiety, neighbourhoods that encourage walking also create a space for people to engage with one another as they go about their daily lives.
As The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health explains, “Compact, walkable neighbourhoods provide opportunities for natural, daily social interaction,” which is hugely important as “Social interaction builds our self-esteem, self-confidence, and empathy; it increases our feelings of support and belongingness in a community, helps us cope with life’s challenges, and mitigates feelings of loneliness, anxiety and isolation.”
What’s more, green spaces, which are so characteristic of walkable neighbourhoods and cities, have also been proven to have a positive effect on the mental health of those with access to them.
Love the idea of living in a walkable neighbourhood?
Harbour Arch is a mixed-use precinct designed around the principles of new urban living, and presenting an opportunity for people to live, work and play, in a safe, convenient, and sustainable community-focused environment. If you’d like to chat to us about an apartment in the first of six individual towers planned for the precinct, contact us today on 087 809 0000 or click here to get in touch with a sales consultant.