The study, by Lawrence Douglas Frank, will be published eventually in the journal Social Science and Medicine. But unfortunately, figuring out how to link to the abstract without understanding what "DOI" means turned out to ridiculously complicated! So sorry 'bout that: technical difficulties (otherwise known as "cluelessness") prevented putting a handy link here.
Anyway, the study tried to remove the effects of self-selection of neighborhoods when comparing obesity rates--which seems like a smart idea. Fitness Freaks may choose walkable neighborhoods more often, so we can't be giving their neighborhoods sole credit for their trim waists and muscular calves if they came fully equipped with these features already.
So now, on with the bullet points!
- A significant number of people are “mismatched” and do not live in their preferred type of neighborhood.
- Those who wanted to live in a walkable neighborhood and actually did so walked the most, (33.9% walked). They drove 25.8 miles per day on average.
- Those who preferred car dependent neighborhoods and lived in one of them walked the least. (3.3%). They also drove the most: 43 miles per day.
- Those who didn't prefer a walkable environment walked very little. They showed no change in obesity rates regardless of where they lived.
- Obesity rates were about half as high (11.7%) among those who preferred and lived in walkable neighborhoods compared to those who preferred car dependent 'hoods (21.6%).
Well, kind of. If you're one of those 23% of people who wants to live in a walkable neighborhood and doesn't. The rest of folks either already live in a walkable neighborhood or don't give a rat's ass how many trails or sidewalks or nearby shops and restaurants there are. They'll take the freakin car. Or bus. Or they'll order in.
This study actually seemed pretty depressing, at least for a firm believer in trying to turn unwalkable neighborhoods into walkable ones. It seems as though not only do we need to build the sidewalks, we need to confiscate all the cars too! (Note: not a serious suggestion; car-lovers, do not be alarmed).
There are of course lots of barriers to choosing a walkable neighborhood to live in--expense and quality of schools and location of workplace being big ones. Some people clearly have little choice.
But is it too annoying to point out that some people do? That "where you live" is not always just a given that you have to accept and can't control?
Some folks who could afford a modest sized place in a walkable area will choose instead to live in a much bigger house further away from everything, where they have a hideous commute, no sidewalks or bike trails, and no option but to drive everywhere. Is it possible that families who have do more options might start considering shifting their priorities a bit?
Because until the demand is there, developers and urban planners probably aren't going to bust their butts trying to create cool walkable neighborhoods. We're going to have to be clamoring for them. And it it looks like so far, we're just not clamoring loud enough.
How about you folks--do you live somewhere you can get out and walk when you want to? How big a priority is that for you when you hunt for a place to live? And did you have much choice about where you ended up?