Implicit in the work of all architects and urban designers is the idea that good design can improve human life. And now, a massive global study spanning 14 cities and 10 countries has put that idea to the test and found it true: a well-designed city can help keep people active and reduce rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Researchers monitored the physical activity of 6,822 adults in cities from Adelaide, Australia, to Hradec Králové, Czech Republic—all to test whether urban design had an impact on the average number of minutes people walk in a day. Published in medical journal The Lancet, the results showed that physical activity was indeed affected by the concentration of a number of urban elements including population, parks, public transit, and intersections. In short: the more walkable a city is, the more its inhabitants will walk.
For decades, Jane Jacobs touted the social benefits of density in urban planning, and walkability has risen as a watchword for desirability. Now there’s solid health data to back up best practices.
“Design of urban environments has the potential to contribute substantially to physical activity,” reads the study. “[The] similarity of findings across cities suggests the promise of engaging urban planning, transportation, and parks sectors in efforts to reduce the health burden of the global physical inactivity pandemic.”