Bad urban planning makes us fat

20130924-072234.jpg A very big and very bold statement but apparently it is backed up by research. The question is – is it the designers or the policy makers fault?

Another great article from The Fast Company site again, this time finding some research from a “group of University of California, Berkeley, researchers wanted to see if neighborhood design, or smart growth planning principles–like mixed land use, walkable neighborhoods, compact housing, and green space–could shape activity and health.”

The researchers “measured the activity levels of children in a smart growth community (called the Preserve) compared to activity levels of children in conventional suburban communities in Chino, California. Hooking up GPS and accelerometer devices to the belt loops of 386 kids, they took in activity readings every 30 seconds–120 times an hour–over the course of a week.”

What they found was that activity local to the home increased by 46% in the smart growth community, but that the overall physical activity levels of the kids was comparable between Preserve and Chino, indicating that the families in Chino had to travel outside of the local neighbourhood for the kids exercise.

So the research would indicate that some parents are still engaging the kids in exercise regardless of where they live but that in poorly designed urban sprawl they are having to drive outside of the local community for exercise. Which can put further strain on the affordability of living for lower income households – fast food is cheaper than cooking at home, too expensive to drive the kids to exercise, need the petrol to get to work.

The biggest challenge then is how do we integrate parks, playgrounds, healthy living features into lower income developments where these additional features are generally ‘value engineered’ out to keep the homes affordable.

To live within one planet we need to move to higher density living than single dwelling sprawl, we need to stay healthy to reduce costs of living with unhealthy lifestyles and the cost of providing this shouldn’t marginalise lower income households.

So is it policy makers or designers that can fix the problem? It is both. We need policy makers to require the integration of active living features within our developments and we need designers to achieve the outcome at affordable costs.

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