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Designing for Walkability

Authored by Simeon Swaby

Art By Jenny Li

“There are so many from Brooklyn. And I can see why—the charm of the houses, the walkability of the village, and the closeness of the city,” says Loretta Chiavetta, a new resident to the small village of Pleasantville in Mount Pleasant, NY [1]. Like many from New York City, Chiavetta was looking for a new community for her family after rising prices pushed them out of their original community. What she found was Pleasantville, a village that had elements of a small town, mixed with a walkable and accessible neighborhood.  

In a housing market as competitive as the one in America, some of the most sought after homes are located in walkable communities; and it’s easy to see why. Walkable communities have been shown to improve the health and well-being of its citizens by providing an open atmosphere where physical activity is widespread and social interaction is encouraged [2]. Not only are these communities conducive to forming neighborhoods that are more connected socially, but the innate incentives of being in a walkable community can promote physical activity and consequently reduce the chances of health complications like coronary artery disease and diabetes. 

Rather than using a car to get from place to place, residents are encouraged to use more active forms of transport like bikes in walkable communities. Being regularly active could have wonders on one’s health. Moreover, easy access to local markets or doctors’ offices can reduce the risk of health complications as a result of other factors. In a study from the journal Current Problems in Cardiology, researchers studied the relationship between cardiovascular disease and the walkability of a neighborhood. They found that the instances of someone diagnosed with high cholesterol were 29.2 percent in the most walkable communities, compared to 34.5 percent in the least walkable communities [3]. Similar measures have been found for obesity, and to a lesser extent, for coronary artery disease. 

Fig. 1: Graph of the prevalence of  different diseases among communities of various levels of walkability. Q1 communities have the lowest levels of walkability, while Q4 communities have the highest levels of walkability (Source: Science Direct).


The difference comes down to higher levels of physical activity in walkable neighborhoods, along with greater access to healthy foods, and healthcare, which all link to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. 

The benefits of walkable communities go beyond their ability to make one physically active. A community’s layout and accessibility can improve an individual’s mental well being. Findings from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health show that the urban design and development of certain communities could impact one’s mentality [4]. Using an advanced neural network system, researchers were able to map out communities which exhibited elements of walkability and related this back to the mental health of the residents. They found that the people residing in communities containing elements of more walkable neighborhoods, mainly less single-lane roads and more sidewalks, were less depressed than communities without those elements. Quinn Nguyen, an associate professor at UMD’s School of Public Health and a contributor to this study, suggested that “neighborhood walkability and urban development are connected with lower chronic diseases, better mental health and reduced smoking” [5].

Although there are a considerable amount of benefits to walkable neighborhoods, these benefits aren’t always felt by everyone. Non-white and lower-class residents, while oftentimes living in highly walkable communities, are less likely to take advantage of them for several reasons. A study from the journal Obesity compared BMI levels between walkable and non-walkable communities across various racial and ethnic groups [6]. It was found that while the BMI increased for whites as a community became more walkable, the inverse was true for predominantly Black, Hispanic, and Asian communities. One reason for this could be due to the historic inequalities that have existed for racialized groups within urban centers. Disinvestments into these communities from historic “redlining” policies created poorly built “physical activity” environments [7]. These environments are inflicted with a lack of walkability,  street connectivity, and  green space.

What’s worse is that when these communities do get investments into improving walkability and infrastructure, it usually prices out local residents [8]. The white residents who had left many city centers during the age of “white flight” are now returning to take advantage of new amenities and benefits of living in a more open community. Sadly, these improvements are coming at the cost of long-time residents from marginalized backgrounds. 

However, there is some hope. Data from the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index (H&T Index) shows that walkability has the potential to reduce housing properties. In fact, the 25 largest traditional cities (usually the most walkable cities) have 19 percent lower combined housing costs than 25 largest sprawling cities (usually less walkable cities) [9]. This means that an increase in walkability isn’t inherently correlated to increased community costs. 

Ensuring that walkable communities remain affordable to everyone will be an important task in future. Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a comfortable and welcoming community, no matter who they are.    

Works Cited

  1. Mancuso, A. (2023, May 24). Pleasantville, N.Y.: A walkable village that checks “all the boxes.” The New York Times. 

  2. Roe, J., Mondschein, A., Neale, C., Barnes, L., Boukhechba, M., & Lopez, S. (2020). The Urban Built Environment, Walking and Mental Health Outcomes Among Older Adults: A Pilot Study. Frontiers in public health, 8, 575946.

  3. Makhlouf, M. H. E., Motairek, I., Chen, Z., Nasir, K., Deo, S. V., Rajagopalan, S., & Al-Kindi, S. G. (2023). Neighborhood Walkability and Cardiovascular Risk in the United States. Current Problems in Cardiology, 48(3), 101533. 

  4. Yue, X., Antonietti, A., Alirezaei, M., Tasdizen, T., Li, D., Nguyen, L., Mane, H., et al. (2022). Using Convolutional Neural Networks to Derive Neighborhood Built Environments from Google Street View Images and Examine Their Associations with Health Outcomes. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(19), 12095. MDPI AG. Retrieved from

  5. Eatough , A. (n.d.). Neighborhood features impact mental health for better and worse. Neighborhood Features Impact Mental Health for Better and Worse | Brain and Behavior Institute. 

  6. Wang, M. L., Narcisse, M., & McElfish, P. A. (2022). Higher walkability is associated with increased physical activity and reduced obesity among United States adults. Obesity, 31(2), 553–564. 

  7. McKoy , J. (2023, February 2). US neighborhood walkability influences physical activity, BMI Levels. SPH US Neighborhood Walkability Influences Physical Activity BMI Levels Comments. 

  8. Broberg , B. (2018, November 15). Affordable walkability. 

  9. Steuteville, R. (2022, June 1). Why walkability is not a luxury. CNU. 

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