Walk with us, part 2: why walkability?

This is the second in a four-part series co-authored by Kimberly Williamson and Matthew Piper exploring walkability and the El Moore.

In our last post, we defined walkability and considered how walkable life at the El Moore will be for both residents and visitors. This time we’ll take a broader, more holistic view of how walkability affects our health, our economics, and our environment.

Let’s start with individual health:

With all the medical advancements of our day, we are nevertheless still plagued with tremendous chronic health diseases, many of which are considered to be preventable. According to the Centers for Disease Control, seven out of ten deaths are caused by chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke. Walking, according to the The American Heart Association, can go a long way toward reducing the instance of chronic disease, because it helps prevent one of the major risk factors: obesity. Currently in the United States, one in three adults is considered to be obese. In Detroit, the situation is much worse: a full 69% of adults are classified as obese or overweight (Michigan Dept. of Community Health).

In addition to reducing the risk of obesity,  the AHA asserts that walking for just 30 minutes per day can also reduce risks for:

  • Heart Disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Breast & Colon Cancer
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Stroke

Beyond the purely physical benefits, there are significant mental health benefits, too: Prevention magazine suggests that 40 minutes of walking, three times per week, can help protect the region of the brain that is associated with memory and planning and reduce the symptoms of depression by 36%.

Okay, so a more walkable neighborhood can clearly have a positive impact on individual health and well-being, but the evidence also strongly suggests that walkability affects our wallets, too. Did you know that costs associated with transportation are the second largest expense for American households? Simply put, walking saves you money. Not only that, it also increases the value of your neighborhood. Numerous studies suggest that as a neighborhood’s walkability increases, so does the value of its housing. A one-point increase in Walk Score [based on number of destinations within a short distance], for instance, is associated with between a $700 and $3,000 increase in home values. [CEOs for Cities, 2009].

Nothing we do, of course, is disconnected from our environment — a central tenet of life at the El More — and walkability offers the additional benefit of helping us to be better environmental stewards. For instance, for every mile we walk, rather than drive, we save 1 lb of carbon (California Walks). Furthermore, according to the Encyclopedia of Earth, “if Americans substituted walking for driving the distance recommended for daily exercise (3-5 miles), the United States would consume 35%-38% less oil.” And as walkability increases, driving decreases, reducing the amount of harmful particulate matter, brake debris, and tire particles that are adverse to our soil (Environmental Protection Agency).

We have only begun to scratch the surface of why promoting walking in our day-to-day lives makes good sense. (Check out the infographic below for more.) And beyond the empirical evidence we’ve mentioned, there are other benefits that are more difficult to measure but that are real, and important, nonetheless. Walkability helps foster a sense of community. The feelings of connectedness to one’s neighborhood, engagement with neighbors, and the exploration/play associated with walking give communities something to bond around. It is these kinds of connections and broad benefits that call us to participate in and promote the development of sustainable, walkable neighborhoods in Detroit.

benefits of walkability.jpg