[mpisgmedia] Shaping the City of Tomorrow: What Gets Us Moving

Shaping the City of Tomorrow: What Gets Us Moving

How can we build communities that encourage a more active
lifestyle? Researchers at Saint Louis University School of
Public Health have received a $99,000 grant from The Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation to answer that question as they
study how the features of our physical environment affect our
activity levels.
The researchers, led by Ross Brownson, Ph.D., professor of
epidemiology and director of the Prevention Research Center
at Saint Louis University School of Public Health, will analyze
how factors such as the quality of sidewalks, the presence of
restaurants, safety from traffic and graffiti influence whether
we walk or ride bikes.
?The primary aim of this project is to determine the most
important features of the street-level environment that
influence transportation and recreation activity patterns,?
Brownson says.
Their findings could shape how the cities of tomorrow are
designed, he says.
?By identifying specific features of the built environment that
are important in influencing rates of physical activity, this
study will contribute to a body of evidence for directing
changes in local land use and transportation policies that
shape the built environment.?
Planners will be able to use this type of research to plan
communities that support physical activity, adds Christine
Hoehner, a co-investigator at Saint Louis University School of
Public Health.
?With the goal of creating environments that rely less on cars
and encourage walking and bicycling, a growing number of
cities throughout the United States are changing development
codes, which regulate various aspects of how communities
are built,? Hoehner says. ?Based in part on our study, revised
zoning and building codes might support a wider range of
housing types and mixed use.?
In addition, the research likely will be valuable to state and
local health departments that are working on plans to reduce
obesity and increase physical activity levels, Brownson says.
The researchers are analyzing data from lower and higher
income areas of St. Louis, a ?low-walkable? community, and
of Savannah, Ga., a ?high-walkable? community. They have
used telephone polls to gauge how residents perceive their
neighborhoods. They also have visited those neighborhoods
to collect objective data, such as the ratio of homes to non-
residential destinations, the condition of sidewalks, the
existence of bike lanes and the presence of litter and broken
?As yet, it is unclear whether the objective measures of the
environment ? for instance, the actual number of crime
incidents in a neighborhood ? or people?s perceptions of their
environment ? for example, an individual?s feelings of safety
from crime in his or her neighborhood ? are more important
in explaining physical activity,? Brownson says.
?This comprehensive assessment of diverse urban
neighborhoods provides many avenues to examine the
association between neighborhood environmental factors and
physical activity behavior.?
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton,
N.J., is the nation?s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively
to health and health care. It concentrates its grantmaking in
four goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to
quality health care at reasonable cost; to improve the quality
of care and support for people with chronic health conditions;
to promote healthy communities and lifestyles; and to reduce
the personal, social and economic harm caused by substance
abuse ? tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.
Saint Louis University School of Public Health is one of only
34 fully accredited schools of public health in the United
States and the nation?s only School of Public Health
sponsored by a Jesuit university.

Editor?s Note: To arrange an interview with Ross Brownson or
Christine Hoehner, please call Nancy Solomon, Saint Louis
University health sciences center media relations, at (314)

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