Fostering Walkable Communities

Adults should engage in moderately intense physical activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes each week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Less than half (48%) of U.S. adults meet this minimum. Illinois adults do slightly better — 52.4% engage in moderately intense physical activity each week.

Illinois PRC investigators are working to develop strategies to increase the physical activity of communities, especially by increasing the safety and ease of walking in everyday life. In one of our special interest projects, our investigators ask:

What roles can zoning, land use, and Smart Growth policies play in fostering walkability? How do these policy approaches increase walking and physical activity in communities most effectively?

To answer these questions, our researchers are conducting a pilot study that examines zoning, land use and SmartGrowth policies in ten small and/or Southern jurisdictions in the United States. The jurisdictions are selected based on the walkability-orientation of their zoning codes based on data previously compiled under a study funded by the National Cancer Institute.

USING GOOGLE STREET VIEW

To study the selected communities, the researchers will use GIS and Google Street View technologies to construct micro-scale street features that are not readily available through standard GIS data systems. The micro-scale data will be used to assess the extent to which the zoning provisions have been implemented.

Our researchers also are conducting qualitative interviews with urban planners and zoning officials in these jurisdictions to understand local processes, perceptions and experiences of the following:

  • The development, adoption and implementation of local zoning, land use and Smart Growth policies.
  • The degree to which design and implementation of such policies support or inhibit community walkability, physical activity, and walking behaviors.
  • The extent to which implementation decisions prioritize neighborhoods or projects for equity reasons.

SCIENTIFIC LEADERSHIP

Illinois PRC investigators working on this project have been examining the effects of policy and the built environment on physical activity for more than a decade. This project builds on work led by Dr. Jamie Chriqui in a national study of the effects of zoning code reforms on adult physical activity. That study has collected the zoning codes affecting three-quarters of the U.S. population — all jurisdictions in the 496 largest U.S. counties as well as those of four consolidated cities.

Members of the research team of this special interest project are:

PARTNERING WITH KEY STAKEHOLDERS

To do this work, Illinois PRC works with these nonprofit organizations to improve walkability in communities:

PARTICIPATING IN A THEMATIC RESEARCH NETWORK

Physical Activity Policy Research Network Plus (identifier)The Illinois PRC is a collaborating center in the Physical Activity Policy Research Network Plus, which aims to advance policy research to increase physical activity of Americans.

Funded by CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, network members conduct research on physical activity policies, specifically walking, to determine their effectiveness and best translation, dissemination, and implementation practices. Members aim to increase the number of people who meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

The PAPRN+ network includes investigators at the Prevention Research Centers of five academic institutions, including the University of Illinois at Chicago:

LEARN MORE

View a February 2016 presentation (PDF) that describes the Illinois PRC’s pilot research for this network in more detail.

Find community strategies to increase physical activity on the CDC website.

Answer the Surgeon General’s call to promote walking and walkable communities: Step It Up!

Learn about other Illinois PRC efforts to reduce obesity.

FUNDING

This work is a special interest project funded as a competitive supplement grant (SIP14-025) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Illinois Prevention Research Center (under Cooperative Grant No. U48-DP005010), which is administered by the Institute for Health Research and Policy of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

ABOUT THE IMAGE

Street View Images ©2016 Google. The image at the top of this page shows examples of communities studied in this special project: low-arterial streets of Meade, Colo. (left), and Tucson, Ariz.