New Urbanism makes us healthier

The Harvard Business review states:

To put it simply, the suburbs have lost their sheen: Both young workers and retiring Boomers are actively seeking to live in densely packed, mixed-use communities that don’t require cars—that is, cities or revitalized outskirts in which residences, shops, schools, parks, and other amenities exist close together. “In the 1950s, suburbs were the future,” says University of Michigan architecture and urban-planning professor Robert Fishman, commenting on the striking cultural shift. “The city was then seen as a dingy environment. But today it’s these urban neighborhoods that are exciting and diverse and exploding with growth.”

Why Such a Major Shift?

The change is about more than evolving tastes; it’s at least partly a reaction to real problems created by suburbs. Their damage to quality of life is well chronicled. For instance, studies in 2003 by the American Journal of Public Health and the American Journal of Health Promotion linked sprawl to rising obesity rates. (By contrast, new research in Preventive Medicine, people living in more urban communities reap health benefits because they tend to walk more.) Car culture hurts mental health as well. Research by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and his team shows that out of a number of daily activities, commuting has the most negative effect on people’s moods. And economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer have found that commuters who live an hour away from work would need to earn 40% more money than they currently do to be as satisfied with their lives as noncommuters.

A recent report sponsored by Bank of America, the Greenbelt Alliance, and the Low Income Housing Fund examines the inefficiencies of the current “geographical mismatch between workers and jobs.” Focusing on California, it says that sprawl “reduc[es] the quality of life,” “increase[s] the attractiveness of neighboring states,” and yields “higher direct business costs and taxes to offset the side-effects of sprawl”—which include transportation, health care, and environmental costs.

Or, as one New Urbanist developer says:

New Urbanism Neighborhoods:  A Reason to Walk Every Day

Walkable communities like Monarch at Ridge Hill are rapidly gaining in popularity, and with good reason. There are clear financial, environmental, social, and emotional health benefits of pedestrian friendly design. Here are ten of them:

  1. Shrink your waistline. According to new research, people in walkable neighborhoods weigh an average of seven pounds less than their counterparts living in suburban sprawl. More time sitting, inactively, in the car = higher numbers on the scale.
  2. Reduce your carbon foot print. When you don’t use your car – or use it less often – you use less gas. And that translates to the release of fewer greenhouse gasses and other pollutants – and better air quality around your home.
  3. Save money. Hello – the average price of gas is somewhere around $4 per gallon. Wouldn’t you rather walk to your favorite restaurant in the Ridge Hill lifestyle shopping center and have extra dollars in your pocket for dessert or an after dinner drink?
  4. Save time. All those hours you used to log trying to park, in the city or the suburbs? Well, you’ll never get those back. But in a walkable community you won’t waste any more of them! Just leave your door, go for a short walk, and you’ve arrived at the store or restaurant of your choice.
  5. Get to know your neighbors. While there are many cosmopolitan aspects to new urbanism, in this way, it’s more like small-town living: you are part of a real community. When you live in the kind of neighborhood where you walk from place to place, you naturally come into contact with your neighbors, and get to know them. It makes for a friendly atmosphere that also feels safe.
  6. Get healthy. Have you ever heard of a study indicating that walking more is bad for you? I didn’t think so. Just about every study done on walking indicates that it is good for your health. Doing more of this free, gentle, low-impact form of exercise offers almost more health benefits than you can count. It lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes. It lowers “bad” cholesterol, and elevates the good kind. It strengthens muscles and bones, which lowers your chance of developing osteoporosis. The health benefits of walking list goes on.
  7. Don’t worry – be happy! No, really. Walking more isn’t just good for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. Studies show it elevates mood, while reducing anxiety and depression.
  8. Dream a little dream. You don’t only benefit from walking during your waking hours. No, we’re not suggesting you sleep-walk. But studies suggest that if you walk more during the day, you’ll sleep better at night.
  9. Enhance your property value. The walkable community concept has really caught on – to the extent that homes located in new urbanism neighborhoods have been reporting increased real estate values. So living this way is also an investment for the future.
  10. Live your best life. Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When you consider the many benefits of living in a walkable community like Monarch at Ridge Hill – greater physical and mental health; improved sense of community and safety;  easy access to great amenities and shopping; the satisfaction that comes from living greener – it all adds up to this: a better quality of life.
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