The Aerobic City

Ideas from "Rx for Healthy Places"

Chris Riley: Mr. Healthy
Chris Riley: Mr. Healthy

Council Member Chris Riley was among those excited by the theme at this year's Congress for New Urbanism: How can cities be designed to improve public health?

Austinites who attended CNU18 in Atlanta shared the best ideas to apply here, at a recent Café Urban happy hour sponsored by CNU Central Texas.

Riley said he was interested to hear hard data on how good urban design helps people stay healthier. “Complete streets and walkable neighborhoods can help address many of the leading causes of death, from motor vehicle crashes to diabetes,” he said, based on research presented at CNU18, themed Rx for Healthy Places. Another take away for Riley: “An effective transit system can also play a huge part in promoting public health: In Atlanta, transit users are 3.4 times more likely to meet daily physical activity recommendations.”

Lucy Galbraith, who plans transit-oriented development at Capital Metro, cited a presentation on an American Public Health Association report, "How Transportation Impacts Health Costs.” The report, said Galbraith in a follow-up e-mail, documents how compact, walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods are “associated with more walking, bicycling and transit use; more overall physical activity; lower body weights; lower rates of traffic injuries and fatalities, particularly for pedestrians; lower rates of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; and better mobility for non-driving populations.” Increased transit use is associated with getting more exercise, it says, which in turn reduces the chances of chronic disease onset.

“These researchers were following the usual public health method, noticing that outcomes were different in different places, and then trying to figure out why,” said Galbraith. They identified a correlation between places with more workable transportation choices (walk, bike, transit) and better public health levels.

The APHA report presents a method for projecting health benefits that could be created by a proposed transportation investment. So, why not consider that criteria when deciding what to fund? Potentially, government could require a "health impact study" for projects proposed, similar to the environmental impact study currently required for federal funding, Galbraith said.

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