RESULTS from an international study involving Perth researchers have shown the design of urban environments has the potential to influence the health and wellbeing of residents.
RESIDE study, a longitudinal natural experiment commenced in 2003 “examining the impact of urban planning on active living in metropolitan [areas]. Participants building homes in new housing developments were surveyed before relocation and approximately 12 months later”.
The impact upon health is via “social determinants: access to public transport, green space and local amenities”.
Chief Investigator Professor Billie Giles-Corti says the study is one of the only of its type internationally to look at monitoring people over time to see what happens to their walking behaviours when they relocate to a new neighbourhood.
“This is important because there’s a big problem with studies of this kind where the question is, do people change their behaviour in response to that environment, or do people just choose neighbourhoods that match their behaviours?” Prof Giles-Corti says.
The results saw an increase in walking for recreation by about 16 minutes per week and a decrease in walking for transport by about eight minutes a week when people relocated especially to these new neighbourhoods.
The decrease in walking for transport was attributed to a loss of access to destinations within walking distance, in these new suburbs.
Prof Giles-Corti says an aim of the research is to provide evidence about the importance of the way neighbourhoods are designed, to achieve government goals of creating more sustainable communities.
“We looked specifically at people who gained access to recreational opportunities or gained access to walking for transport, and what we found was that those who gained access to a park, beach or sports oval increased their walking for recreation by 21 minutes for each location gained,” Prof Giles-Corti says.
“So for someone living in a neighbourhood where there was all three, they would increase their walking for recreation by about 60 minutes, which is a very significant change and it’s really important,” she says.
Prof Giles-Corti says the study shows that if people have access to these recreation opportunities, they will change their behaviour in response.
“What this points to is that it there has been success in getting people to walk for recreation through government policies around the provision of public open spaces.
“Now what we need is a similar strategy to activate businesses and services within new neighbourhoods to give people the opportunity to walk to these destinations as transport,” she says.