Homebuyer and Land Developer Perceptions of Active Neighbourhoods

Results from “'Cul-de-sacs make you fat': homebuyer and land developer perceptions of neighbourhood walkability, bikeability, livability, vibrancy, and health. Cities & Health”

McCormack GR, Nesdoly A, Ghoneim D & McHugh TL

Neighbourhood Environments and Health

The importance of the built environment in supporting population health and well-being is understood by public health authorities and urban planning professionals alike (1,2). Conceptual academic labels that describe different neighbourhood qualities (walkability, bike-ability, healthy, vibrancy, and livability) are often used in media, real estate and land marketing materials, yet these terms are not readily used by residents when describing their own neighbourhoods. This inconsistency in use of terminology can have negative implications for lifestyle and health-decision making (3). A recent study compliments our previous research which considered the perceptions and meanings of walkability, bike-ability, health, vibrancy and livability, among real estate professionals. Further exploring these perceptions among two additional stakeholder groups, land developers and homebuyers, offers insight on the alignment of land developer promises with homebuyer experience.

Homebuyer and Land Developer Perspectives of Active Neighbourhoods

Twelve homebuyers from Calgary and Edmonton, and twelve land developers from Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge were interviewed and asked to share their perspectives on concepts that are used to describe active neighbourhoods. Using these interviews, key themes were established around each of these concepts. Participants were familiar with, and had used the term walkability, which was described as an ease of movement important for both transportation and recreation. Walkability was also understood to be contextually different, in that perceptions of walkability depend on individual or community need. Finally, walkability was described regarding connections. Participants highlighted that walkability is associated with pathway connectivity, connection to amenities and connectivity with other community members. However, both homebuyers and land developers highlighted that connections alone did not necessarily make a neighbourhood walkable, but that there are also aesthetic requirements to walkability. Bike-ability was considered similar to walkability, but participants described two key features related to bike-ability. First, participants described the supportive infrastructure required for bike-ability, including bike lanes, and acknowledged the controversy surrounding this type of bike-related infrastructure. Second, homebuyers and land developers alike considered bike-ability to be subjective, having different meanings for different people. Vibrancy was noted as a popular industry term by land developers, while homebuyers had heard the term but were often unable to think of a time they had used it. Overall, participants perceived vibrancy as matching peoples’ values in perceptions of vibrancy might depend on one’s own community values. Vibrancy was also considered to be related to supportive built features. Land developers highlighted their role in creating opportunities for vibrancy and homebuyers mentioned an appreciation for unique built features within their communities. Both homebuyers and land developers struggled to define the term livability, but many suggested that livability was an all-encompassing term that included aspects of active neighbourhoods they had previously described. Additionally, livability was perceived as the friendliness and safety of the neighbourhood by homebuyers. Regarding the term healthy, participants explained that this concept is not frequently used to describe neighbourhood design and that it was difficult to discuss a neighborhood in terms of its health. However, participants perceived that a healthy neighbourhood could be related to the opportunities for activity within the neighborhood, and the diversity of the neighbourhood.

Findings from this study suggest that land developers and homebuyers often have similar perceptions of the walkability, bike-ability, vibrancy, livability and health of a neighbourhood, and that their perceptions align with formal definitions of these concepts. Additionally, these concepts can be understood to have a hierarchal relationship where walkability and bike-ability are necessary for vibrancy, which is required for livability which in turn is required for a health supportive neighbourhood.

Suggested Citation

McCormack GR, Nesdoly A, Ghoneim D, McHugh TL. "Cul-de-sacs make you fat”: homebuyer and land developer perceptions of neighbourhood walkability, bikeability, livability, vibrancy, and health. Cities & Health. 2021 Oct 18. doi:10.1080/23748834.2021.1979759

Written by Calli Naish, BAS; Infographic by Hallie Horvath & Calli Naish

Posted October 28, 2021


  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. The Chief Public Health Ofcer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2017 – Designing Healthy Living. [Internet]. Government of Canada; 2017 [cited 2021 Oct 22]. Cat: HP2-10E-PDF. Available from: state-public-health-canada/2017-designing-healthy-living.html

  2. Policy on health communities planning. [Internet]. Canadian Institute of Planners; 2018 {cited 2021 Oct 22]. Available from:

  3. Badland HM, Oliver M, Kearns RA, Mavoa S, Witten K, Duncan MJ, et al. Association of neighbourhood residence and preferences with the built environment, work-related travel behaviours, and health implications for employed adults: Findings from the URBAN study. Soc Sci Med. 2012;75(8):1469-1476.