McCormack GR, Nesdoly A, Ghoneim D, McHugh TL
Neighbourhood Environments and Health
There is growing interest in designing neighbourhoods that support active lifestyles as regular physical activity can improve health by reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, depression and obesity (1). Characteristics of the built environment that can support physical activity include higher residential and population densities, more land use and destination mix, and higher street network connectivity (2). Adults may choose to live in such neighbourhoods that support their desire for active lifestyles and realtors play an important role in matching home-seekers to these neighbourhoods.
In order to successfully match home-seekers with neighbourhoods that fulfill their active lifestyle preferences, realtors must be familiar with the concepts and terminology used to describe different neighbourhood built environments that support active living. However, there is a lack of consensus in the terminology and definitions used among stakeholders to describe neighbourhood characteristics that influence health and active living. To aid in establishing greater consensus in terminology, a recent study sought to explore the perceptions and understandings of neighbourhood characteristics associated with active living among urban residential realtors.
Realtor’s Perceptions on Active Neighbourhoods
Nineteen residential realtors from Calgary, Lethbridge and Edmonton were interviewed to explore their perceptions of concepts used to describe active neighbourhoods. These concepts included walkability, health, bike-ability, vibrancy and livability. Key themes surrounding each of these concepts were drawn from these realtor interviews. Walkability was described by realtors as a subjective term that may have different meaning to different people. Realtors also described how walkability was related to one’s access to amenities or destinations, including access to stores, restaurants, parks, greenspace. Safety and aesthetics were also described as important factors in accessing services and amenities. Additionally, both physical and social connections were seen as important features of walkability, including shared pathways, and infrastructure that support walking, cycling, and the use of public transit, as well as encourage a sense of community. Healthy neighbourhoods were difficult for realtors to describe, suggesting instead that a healthy community could be a community that encourages outdoor activities or promotes social homogeneity. Bike-ability was described by realtors as similar to walkability but requiring additional features such as bike paths and multi-use trails. Realtors further described that promoting a neighbourhood as bike-able could sometimes be controversial as some home-seekers may be frustrated by infrastructure that supports biking. Vibrancy was also referred to as a subjective term but often described as active, interesting and new. Realtors described the feel of the community to have newer neighbourhoods, younger residents and lots of things to do. Vibrant neighbourhoods were also described to have many nearby amenities and services and show “evidence of life” with events that engage the community. Finally, realtors suggested that livability was a blanket term which included walkability, health, vibrancy and bike-ability that was also subjective and dependent on a home-seeker’s stage of life. The livability of a neighbourhood was also connected to a person’s preferences and necessities.
While realtors reported that the terms walkability, bike-ability, health, vibrancy and livability were not commonly used, they did speak to aspects of the built-environments of neighbourhoods that support physical activity, sense of community and health among residents. Realtor perspectives on neighbourhood characteristics that contribute to physically active lifestyles are in line with previous studies that describe the characteristics that support walking and cycling (3, 4). The findings suggest that realtors do attempt to match home-seekers with neighbourhoods that would support active lifestyles, however, realtor biases regarding home-seeker sociodemographics and the belief that a healthy neighbourhood is socially homogenous may undermine matching home-seekers with neighbourhoods that support active living. The exploration of realtors’ perceptions and understandings of concepts used to describe active neighbourhoods can inform the development of universal definitions and terminology to describe neighbourhood urban design and aid in better matching home-seekers with neighbourhoods that support active lifestyles.
Suggested Citation: McCormack GR, Nesdoly A, Ghoneim D, McHugh TL. Realtor’s perceptions and understandings of neighbourhood characteristics associated with active living. International Journal of Environmental Research and Publich Health. 2020; 17(23):9150. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17239150
Written by Calli Naish, BAS and Dalia Ghoneim, MPH, CSEP-CEP; Graphic by Emma Chong, Dalia Ghoneim and Calli Naish
Posted on March 16, 2021
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