Architects at the University of Arizona examine built environments and their effect on health and well-being. They started by identifying four common neighborhood designs, and how these setups make a difference in physical activity. The areas of “walkability” include traffic safety, surveillance, resident experiences, community, land use, density, neighborhood connectivity, parking, and green space.
Adriana Zuniga-Teran, an architect student, found that residents of suburban developments report highest mental well-being levels, residents of traditional neighborhoods with accessible commercial areas walk the most, residents of gated communities do not feel safer from crime (despite the security of their design) and residents of house communities that are clustered together interact the most with their neighbors. The residents of cluster housing often times have to share amenities, which brings them closer. Zuniga-Teran also found that mixed-use neighborhoods that are close to stores and restaurants had the most walkers. People are walking for both transportation and recreation. Unsurprisingly, residents of high-crime areas had the lowest levels of mental wellness. She found that the areas do not even have to be technically considered “high-crime.” If a neighborhood is covered in trash and graffiti, people are less likely to walk.
Zuniga-Teran was shocked by the high levels of mental health in suburban neighborhoods, because she expected them to feel the negative aspects of longer commute times, increased traffic, etc. She realized that the levels were so high due to the green space, and also the interactions between community members. She was most surprised by the fact that gated-community members did not feel any safer. She expected higher levels of mental wellness due to their extra security.
In the end, Zuniga-Teran found that the most beneficial impacts may include creating maintenance programs and planting trees/gardens in neighborhoods, especially low-income areas. She found that trees relate to frequent neighbor interactions and a higher perception of safety.