Frank 2001 - "The Built Environment and Human Activity Patterns"

Frank, Lawrence D; Englke, Peter O
"The Built Environment and Human Activity Patterns: Exploring the Impacts of Urban Form on Public Health"
Journal of Planning Literature
November 2001; v.17, n.2; pp.202-218
On the Web
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Frank and Engelke reviews current literature to explore how physical activity affects public health and how urban form affects physical activity. The article is a good introduction to the subject with references to many useful studies (also reviewed in this  lit review), but a few of which are outdated.

Basically, lack of physical activity causes a higher risk of mortality, disease, and obesity (which carries its own risks). People are more likely to adopt a physical activity program if it is inexpensive and fits into their daily living patterns. Research on the effect of the environment on physical is still "in it infancy" but it appears that environmental variables do affect walking, although disproportionately more for vulnerable groups (such as seniors or children) than for the general population.

Areas of the built environment to explore are:

  • transportation systems (transit, street network),
  • land development patterns (density, mix of uses),
  • micro-scale urban design (sidewalks, bike lanes, aesthetics, traffic safety).

So far, empirical studies have yielded inconsistent results, but there are several explanations including lack of consensus on theoretical models, lack of longitudinal panel studies, under-reporting of non-motorized travel, strong correlations between built environment variables (making regression difficult), and too many different land-use measures.

In addition self-selection may cause spurious associations because people who want to walk may choose to live in places that are better for walking, rather than the places causing all people to walk more.

This study is most useful as a thorough overview, literature review, and guide to further studies.

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