Category Archives: Walking for Health

Living Near A Vancouver Greenway Keeps You Fit

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The City of Vancouver’s Greenway system comprises of a network of 140 kilometers of streets that are designed for walking and biking as a priority. This was an  innovative concept that was developed by the Urban Landscape Task Force chaired by Moura Quayle  in the early 1990’s under Mayor Gordon Campbell’s leadership. The original intent was to have a greenway a 20 minute walk or a ten minute bicycle ride from every residence in Vancouver. For some reason that has changed to a 25 minute walk on the city’s website in the last couple of years. You can read a bit more about greenways at the City’s link here.

Others have been writing about the two kilometer downtown  Comox-Helmcken Greenway that links Hornby Street to Stanley Park and you can see some images here,  posted by Gordon Price when the greenway first opened in 2016. Like many things, the City has built a lot of the network, but has not undertaken any analysis of  the greenways’ effectiveness and impact on city residents~until now.

Dr. Lawrence Frank with the Health and Community Design Lab at the University of British Columbia, was commissioned to examine what health impacts urban greenways have for citizens. Asreported by the CBC  people who lived in a three hundred meter proximity to the greenway “doubled their odds of completing 20 minutes of physical activity a day, and almost halved the odds of being sedentary for nine hours a day.”

Dr. Frank’s report shows that the greenway benefits adjacent residents the most, who have a quick, safe and convenient way to travel along the greenway. Of course this also is good for public health’s bottom line, with the initial 5.5 million dollar price tag of the greenway coming back in “anticipated health cost savings“.  An earlier report by Victor Ngo from the Health and Community Design Lab also showed that there was a 21 percent GHG reduction directly attributable to the greenway.

As Dr. Frank observed “This is what’s so exciting about it…Comox cost $5.5 million, yet the anticipated health care cost savings from reduced chronic disease is likely many times greater.”

You can take a look at this YouTube video of a CBC interview on the results of the study  featuring Victor Ngo. You can find a link to the study here.

While Britain Talks Street Priority, Bologna gives you Beer~Enhancing Walkability

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Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence(with the wonderful initials of NICE) have drafted guidelines for planners and British municipalities to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists and transit over cars. In Metro Vancouver there is no pedestrian plan for the City of Vancouver, and for the City of Delta pedestrians are barely mentioned in the Transportation plan. A clear set of national guidelines in Canada would be helpful to create “safe, attractive and designed” roads that give people other options besides driving. Happily Britain’s Department of Transport supports the policies and understands that increasing walking and cycling prevents chronic diseases including diabetes and depression.

NICE has made the connection that well designed  transportation systems coupled with walkable accessible  built environments can keep people fit and active, which benefits the individual and the universal health care system. Designing for safety and security when walking or cycling is key, as well as for the most vulnerable users who may have limited mobility.

The design guidelines include:

“Pavements should feature bumps, grooves and anti-glare surfaces to help those with visual impairments,Ensuring new and refurbished footways, footpaths and cycle routes link to existing routes
Widening footways and introducing cycle lanes
Introducing traffic-calming schemes to restrict vehicle speeds
Paying more attention to public transport in rural areas where services may be limited
Improving public transport to parks and other green spaces.”

In response to how to encourage accessible movement in existing cities, the BBC has included a video of the “Bella Mossa” program in Bologna Italy. Translating as “Good Job”, this program runs for six months of the year and partners with one hundred local businesses to provide active transportation users with vouchers for items earned through a point system. GPS trackers are used to ensure that there is no cheating for the program and it has been extremely popular, as shown in the YouTube video below.

Connecting walking and cycling with local businesses and commercial areas promotes sociability, connection, and placemaking. Funded by European Horizon 2020 Program, Bella Mossa reduces vehicle use and auto emissions. In its first six months the program recorded over one million activities with 22,000 people taking part in the program.

Walkable Neighbourhoods Make Healthy People!

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Here is some  solid and unequivocal proof that urban design and health need to work together hand in hand for healthier people and neighbourhoods. A new study has found “significant associations” between the walkability of a neighbourhood, lower blood pressure and reduced hypertension risk. This is the largest study yet done with 430,000 people aged 38 to 73 that live in 22 cities in the United Kingdom.  The study shows the importance of good urban design for walkable communities to improve the health of residents.
Even more surprising is that the lower blood pressure and reduced hypertension risk went across different age, income and physical environment variables and remained consistent.  “Protective effects” of walkability were “particularly pronounced” in women, those aged between 50 and 60 years, and those living in more dense or economically deprived neighbourhoods.  Published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health diseases, “researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Oxford University said the findings demonstrated the need for public health interventions to factor in urban design.”

 

The study lead Dr. Chinmoy Sarkar  stated “With the increasing pace of urbanisation and demographic shifts towards an ageing population, we become more vulnerable to chronic diseases… if we are able to invest in creating healthy cities through small retrofits in the design of our neighbourhoods to make them more activity-friendly and walkable, then probably, we will have significant savings in future healthcare expenditures.”

 

Researchers created a walkability index using “residential and retail density, public transport, street-level movement, and proximity to attractive destinations. Poorly designed spaces generally inhibited walking and physical activity, promoting sedentary lifestyles; and were detrimental to social interactions, and as such associated with poorer mental health and wellbeing.”
Designing and retrofitting cities to promote active lifestyles could therefore have significant repercussions for the health of urban populations and governments’ related expenditure around the globe, said Sarkar. “Well-designed cities of today will be healthy cities of tomorrow.”

 

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Does Better Walking Infrastructure Ward Off Depression?

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The link between walkability and improving mental health is one that the Directors of Walk Metro Vancouver perceive as vital to communities. The New York Times writes about   three new studies on depression and regular exercise that should  impact how we build cities and how we enhance walkability for sociability and mental fitness. Reviewing the habits of over one million men and women the studies  “strongly suggest that regular exercise  alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair.”

While the evidence has been clear that designing cities for walking has tremendous health benefits in keeping the population mobile and fit, the evidence about the mental health benefits of walkability has been less clear. By finding several studies that collectively followed  over 1.1 million adults, the link between fitness and mental health was “considerable“. Scientists found that people with the lowest fitness levels were 75 per cent more likely to have diagnoses of depression than the fittest people. The folks in the middle fitness level  were 25 per cent more likely to have  depression diagnoses.

“The pooled results persuasively showed that exercise, especially if it is moderately strenuous, such as brisk walking or jogging, and supervised, so that people complete the entire program, has a “large and significant effect” against depression, the authors wrote. People’s mental health tended to demonstrably improve if they were physically active.”
“The three reviews together make a sturdy case for exercise as a means to bolster mental as well as physical health, said Felipe Barreto Schuch, an exercise scientist at the Centro Universitário La Salle in Canoas, Brazil, who, with Brendon Stubbs, a professor at King’s College in London, was a primary author on all of the reviews.”  

That neuroscience advice to go for  a walk or go ride a bike when overwhelmed or stressed appears to be sound. Mental health improves the more active a population is. It is a  perfect rationale  to encourage the refit and reboot of wide comfortable walkable sidewalks and connections  in cities and in suburbs, keeping citizens of all ages active and engaged.

 

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Does Better Walking Infrastructure Ward Off Depression?

 

 

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Walk Metro Vancouver has been exploring the link between walking and better mental health. The New York Times writes about   three new studies on depression and regular exercise that should  impact how we build cities and how we enhance walkability for sociability and mental fitness. Reviewing the habits of over one million men and women the studies  “strongly suggest that regular exercise  alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair.”
While the evidence has been clear that designing cities for walking has tremendous health benefits in keeping the population mobile and fit, the evidence about the mental health benefits of walkability has been less clear. By finding several studies that collectively followed  over 1.1 million adults, the link between fitness and mental health was “considerable“. Scientists found that people with the lowest fitness levels were 75 per cent more likely to have diagnoses of depression than the fittest people. The folks in the middle fitness level  were 25 per cent more likely to have  depression diagnoses.
“The pooled results persuasively showed that exercise, especially if it is moderately strenuous, such as brisk walking or jogging, and supervised, so that people complete the entire program, has a “large and significant effect” against depression, the authors wrote. People’s mental health tended to demonstrably improve if they were physically active.”
“The three reviews together make a sturdy case for exercise as a means to bolster mental as well as physical health, said Felipe Barreto Schuch, an exercise scientist at the Centro Universitário La Salle in Canoas, Brazil, who, with Brendon Stubbs, a professor at King’s College in London, was a primary author on all of the reviews.”  
That neuroscience advice to go for  a walk or go ride a bike when overwhelmed or stressed appears to be sound. Mental health improves the more active a population is. It is a  perfect rationale  to encourage the refit and reboot of wide comfortable walkable sidewalks and connections  in cities and in suburbs, keeping citizens of all ages active and engaged.
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Does Owning A Dog Mean You Walk More and Are More Healthy?

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This article will be no surprise to  dog owners-in a study published by the journal BMC Public Health,  “dog owners on average walked 22 minutes more per day compared to people who didn’t own a dog”.  That extra 22 minutes a day puts you into the Surgeon General of the United States recommendation of 150 minutes of walking a week for fitness and to alleviate a host of diseases and depression. A similar study published by the CDC found that dog owners also walked more.
Researchers found that not only was there an “increase in exercise, but also the exercise was at a moderate pace”.  Walking was at 3 miles an hour  or 4.8 kilometers per hour, a kilometer faster than the average.
Prior studies have shown that moderate-intensity walking is just as effective as running in lowering the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and other conditions. And the more people walk, the more the health benefits increase, according to the American Heart Association.”
The study used fitness devices that measured speed, distance. Researchers were surprised at the additional activity of dog owners.”As dog owners know, when your hound leaps up onto your bed in the morning, you have little choice but to get up and go”. Researchers note that pet ownership is also linked to longevity and lower rates of depression and stress, suggesting one more reason  to add a dog to your household.

 
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Peter Wohlwend, Walkability and Windsor Way

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I have found that it is not city administration, policy and budgets that create great communities, but the concepts and ideas of the communities themselves. When planners talk about a three-legged stool of place making and the importance of policy, plan and then  community engagement, I have always seen it a bit differently. I think it is important to profoundly listen to what the neighb0urhood is saying, synthesize those concepts, work together, and co-create innovative work that CAN be the foundation for policy. In every instance where I have followed those principles, enhanced walkability and extraordinary examples of placemaking resulted, and city policy has been  modified to embrace these demonstration projects as innovative models.

I first met Peter Wohlwend and his wife Midori Oba about 15 years ago, on Windsor Street in Vancouver’s east side. Windsor Street for its 40 blocks in Kensington Cedar-Cottage was a street used for prostitution and traffic short-cutting, and had its share of on-street car racing. Despite the fact the street connected  three schools and  four parks, people did not walk on the street, leaving it anonymous for the drug and prostitution trade.

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Peter and Midori’s house was in the middle of the drug trade opposite Dickens Elementary School. Peter had done a bold thing-he placed a bench outside of his house next to the public sidewalk. What he found extraordinary was that it was not the drug dealers and prostitutes using the bench.  The users included the  elderly couples that now walked to the grocery store and rested on the bench on their way home, or the parents waiting for the children to come out of the school across the street. The bench was the catalyst for local neighbours to stay on the street, and view the street as a place of respite.

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Peter had another idea. In front of every house along Windsor Street was a large city boulevard that Peter felt was perfect for garden planting. Such planting would provide a buffer between the curb and the sidewalk, and could be a conversational catalyst to focus the community on improving the street. By calling this initiative a “demonstration project” and mounding up  composted recycled green waste  soil above the level of the current soil, new plantings did not interfere with city services below the ground.

Neighbours along Windsor Street had massive “dig in-dig out” parties where dump trucks of composted recycled  green waste soil  moved to newly prepared boulevard gardens. Windsor Street was closed in sections for these dig in parties, where barbeques were wrangled chuckwagon style in the middle of the street for the celebratory hot dogs. Despite the fact that many of the people on Windsor Street did not speak a common language, Peter always said that “Everyone spoke the language of plants”.

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Peter was right. In a short space of time over forty boulevard gardens were built on Windsor Street, and people started to walk on the street. The drug use and prostitution moved off the street as it became a place that was too public for those trades. The Windsor Street community successfully bid for a public art grant, and artist Karen Kazmer installed 20 unique aluminum banners on Windsor Street hydro poles, depicting the hands and activities of Windsor Street residents.

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Peter and Midori received the Greater Vancouver  Good Neighbour Award from the Greater Vancouver Neighbourhood House Association for their temerity and vision in steering  this massive piece of work.  Peter and Midori also started up the multicultural festival that was held every spring on the Kingsway Triangle. For many of the local merchants, it was the first time they met the locals in a celebratory way. Of course this also further deepened relationships between the commercial areas and the surrounding residents.

Windsor Street has been named in the best gardened block awards from the Vancouver Garden Club. And the success of blooming boulevards in tying together Windsor Street as a contiguous, walkable street facilitated the street becoming a bikeway with further traffic calming measures.  The Blooming Boulevard guidelines are now on the City of Vancouver’s website, and gardening the city boulevard is permissible in any single family area in Vancouver.

Peter Wohlwend passed away on May 29 of this year. His funerary card contains the famous Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world…indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”.

Peter’s coaching and advice made me a better planner and a better citizen, and I talk about his work in my TEDx talk on the Transformative Power of Walking. He will be greatly missed by many.

 

Buenos Aires And Seniors Inclusivity

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This article published in World Crunch describes the innovative work that another by-the-sea city, with a very  large elderly population is undertaking to improve place and home for senior citizens.  With a quarter of its residents, approximately 700,000 people as senior citizens,  the municipal government

 “has forged a comprehensive plan, called PIAM, to revamp public spaces and improve the homes of the elderly. It expects to implement the changes beginning next year. The plans include new, better-suited furniture in public places (park benches that are specifically adapted, for example, to older people’s body shapes), prototypes of tricycles the elderly can use along cycling tracks, and more roofs over bus stops. The city also plans to measure how long it really takes seniors to cross busy streets and reprogram traffic lights accordingly.”

Prototypes are needed for better wheelchair access in public places, and in the home “simple measures, such as raising the height of sockets, having fewer items of furniture, not using carpets, mats or rugs, or fixing handles” she says.

The work is based upon WHO’s (World Health Organization) age friendly city designation. But what is important here is that this process involved collaborating with all parties including seniors to ensure that old people are included-without barriers, be they architectural or cultural. It is all in the detail, and Buenos Aires seems to be on  the right track.

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The Future for Seniors? It’s all about Walkable Communities

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The New York Times reports on a new phenomenon-the seniors are leading the way in retirement by showing us how we SHOULD be living-in walkable communities.

While people look for a comfortable house that works for families when they are younger,  “aging in place” is not necessarily the right term for older folks-“aging in community” appears more apt. This is especially important as the baby boom goes into their senior years, and will need access to shops and services, and may not necessarily be able to use a car.

In the age of the Fitbit and a growing cohort of active, engaged retirees eager to take their daily 10,000 steps, retirement communities have been slow to change. Eighty percent of retirees still live in car-dependent suburbs and rural areas, according to a Brookings Institution study.

Retirement communities are normally in two types: isolated gated communities, or large homes on golf courses, such as Tsawwassen Springs. The challenge is both of these types of developments are car dependent, and not great for walking, with curvilinear streets and dead ends. There is a new shift-getting out and walking to shops and services. Among senior housing projects, examples include Waterstone at Wellesley along the Charles River in the Boston area and The Lofts at McKinley in downtown Phoenix. 

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Walkability, though, is much more than a hip marketing pitch. It’s linked to better health, social engagement and higher property values. Research shows that walkable mixed-use communities can reduce disabilities for the aging, enhance social contacts and creates community. The challenge is building senior friendly mixed use developments within existing cities, as mainstream retirement developers had traditionally favored suburban or exurban sites that involve sprawling “greenfield” building on relatively cheap farmland. The new approach, by contrast, is for dense, urban or town-centered sites that are accessible for services and socially vibrant.

Changes that will be needed to accommodate seniors are rezoning mixed use developments and infrastructure changes such as wider sidewalks, bike lanes, more public transportation options and longer pedestrian signal walk times. That way instead of moving to remote locations away from family and familiar services, Grandma and Grandpa can stay where they have always been and be part of the whole community.

The Case for Density Transit and Walking

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Five years ago an extraordinary team of people from the two universities, the two health authorities, the metro Vancouver municipalities and regional government and TransLink got together to run a conference with an innovative idea-that creating communities around walkability was the intersection between health, happy places, liveliness and aging in place.You can view some of the proceedings from the Walk21 Metro Vancouver conference here.

Now Co.exist and others accept as doctrine the innovative concept that the conference was trying to impart-that a walkable city  is a sustainable, sociable well designed city that puts the health and well-being of residents first. In fact while the relationship between walkability and health status has already been established, this study “published in the Lancet, looked at 14 cities in 10 countries, all of which had a similar design, in order to determine whether or not the cities’ layouts themselves were the reason for increased health, as opposed to different lifestyles in different countries. The physical activity of the 14,222 adult participants was measured over four to seven days using Fitbit-style accelerometers. The principal data point was the average number of minutes walked per day.”

Looking at cities in Australia, South America, Europe and three cities in the United States there were some surprising findings, specifically that  urban factors that meant people walked more included “residential density, park and public transport density, and intersection density. Parks are obvious in their effect—people take walks in parks. Residential density is important because if you live in a compact neighborhood, you can easily walk to do your errands. And public transit density is important because not only does it obviate car use, but people have to walk to their nearest station instead of their driveway”

Mixed use development, density, and convenient transit go hand in hand in making walkable places. We’ve now got the evidence to convince policy makers of the important interconnectedness of these three things to design for walkable sustainable communities that support happier, healthier residents of any age.

 

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Creating Walkable Accessible Places for Everyone