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Neighbourhood Design and Physical Activity

Updated: Jun 23

Results from "Differences in transportation and leisure physical activity by neighbourhood design controlling for residential choice".

McCormack, G.R., Koohsari, M.J., Oka, K., Friedenreich, C.M., Blackstaffe, A., Alaniz, F.U., & Farkas, B.

Neighbourhood design can influence physical activity levels

The design of neighbourhoods, towns and cities can influence population physical activity levels, diet, and social interactions (1). However, different neighbourhood designs can have varying effects on different types of physical activity (e.g. walking, cycling, jogging) and its components (i.e. participation, duration, intensity, volume). For example, some neighbourhood features may support walking and cycling for transportation more than other types of physical activity (2). A recent study sought to examine the extent to which neighbourhood design is associated with physical activity by estimating participant’s levels of different kinds of transportation and leisure physical activity for three types of neighbourhood designs.

Grid vs. warped-grid vs. curvilinear designs

The three neighbourhood designs compared in our study include grid, warped-grid, and curvilinear designs, each reflecting eras of urban development in Calgary (3). Grid neighbourhoods were built pre-WWII and offer the highest levels of walkability due to their high pedestrian connectivity, mix of land uses, and treed boulevards with sidewalks on both sides of the street. Warped-grid neighbourhoods were developed post-WWII and offer a medium level of walkability as they have less pedestrian connectivity than grid neighbourhoods and consist of crescent street patterns/curved roads with sidewalks directly adjacent to roads. Newer suburban neighborhoods are characterized by curvilinear designs due to a “loops and lollipops” street pattern with limited pedestrian connectivity and sidewalks often missing from streets.


Physical activity levels differ by neighbourhood design

Results of the study demonstrate that physical activity levels differed according to the neighbourhood built environment. Participants residing in grid neighbourhoods were more likely to participate in transportation walking and cycling, leisure cycling, as well as vigorous-intensity leisure physical activity compared to participants residing in curvilinear neighbourhoods. Participants residing in warped-grid neighbourhoods were more likely to participate in transportation cycling and vigorous-intensity leisure physical activity compared to participants residing in curvilinear neighbourhoods. However, our study findings also suggest that although neighbourhood street design influences ones participation in physical activity, it may not result in a greater amount of time spent in transportation and leisure physical activity. Therefore, health promotion programs such as informational interventions (e.g. community campaigns, point of decision prompts) and behavioral and social interventions (e.g. individually adapted behavior change, social support groups and networks), in combination with built environment modification, might be needed to encourage increased physical activity levels among Canadians. Municipal land use and urban design policies and incentives are needed to encourage the development of grid or warped-grid neighbourhoods that are highly walkable and increase physical activity rates while deterring the development of curvilinear or “suburban” neighbourhoods that have low levels of walkability.


Suggested Citation: McCormack GR, Koohsari MJ, Oka K, Friednereich CM, Blackstaffe A, Alaniz FU, Farkas B. Differences in transportation and leisure physical activity by neighbourhood design controlling for residential choice. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2019. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2019.05.004


Written by Dalia Ghoneim, MPH, CSEP-CEP; Posted on 12/07/2019.

(1) De Nazelle A, Nieuwenhuijsen MJ, Antó JM, Brauer M, Briggs D, Braun-Fahrlander C, Cavill N, Cooper AR, Desqueyroux H, Fruin S, Hoek G. Improving health through policies that promote active travel: a review of evidence to support integrated health impact assessment. Environment International. 2011;37(4):766-77.

(2) Wendel‐Vos WM, Droomers M, Kremers S, Brug J, Van Lenthe F. Potential environmental determinants of physical activity in adults: a systematic review. Obesity Reviews. 2007;8(5):425-40.

(3) Sandalack BA, Alaniz Uribe FG, Eshghzadeh Zanjani A, Shiell A, McCormack GR, Doyle-Baker PK. Neighbourhood type and walkshed size. Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability. 2013;6(3):236-55.

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