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Sun Aug 17, 2014, 12:59 PM

Do We Look Fat in These Suburbs?

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/blame-the-city/375888/


People in dense cities are thinner and have healthier hearts than people in sprawling subdivisions. New research says the secret is in the patterns of the streets


Just seeing someone wearing a Fitbit makes me nervous. I'm told I have a tendency to become “obsessive.” A count of steps or calories burned would be a destructive competition, just one more thing haunting quiet moments telling me I could be working harder, doing more. Pedometers are an invasion to be absolutely avoided, certainly never sought out or, least comprehensibly, given as a "gift."

A decade ago when I was studying in Venice, Italy, though, I did wear a pedometer. It was for science. I was part of a study that compared health behaviors in the U.S. and Italy—where people eat pasta and drink wine long into the night and never die. So I wore the pedometer reluctantly for a while in North Carolina, and then for while in Venice. And, guess what. People walk more in Venice. It is extremely difficult to drive in Venice. There are just no cars or roads.

Is that all it takes to make a healthy city? My professor Paolo was a native Venetian who, as a middle-aged adult, had never driven a car. He had, though, managed to fall into the canals on three separate occasions in his life. The lagoon-water of Venice is stagnant and loaded with sewage, so pedestrianism has its own health risks.

n places where there are streets, the particular effects of their layout on health are less known. But, like so many environmental factors whose health influence might not be readily apparent (e.g. the trees that save us billions of dollars in medical costs), they seem to be worth considering.


Healthiest city designs, from best to worst
(Journal of Transportation and Health

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Aug 17, 2014, 01:10 PM

1. Let’s make suburbs into cities: New urbanism, car culture and the future of community

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/17/lets_make_suburbs_into_cities_new_urbanism_car_culture_and_the_future_of_community/




By the last quarter of the twentieth century, Americans had succeeded in building an alternative to the dense central city, and the anti-government politics of the New Right had triumphed on the national stage. Roughly three out of every four of us live in large metropolitan regions, but the large cities that anchor those regions do not house a majority of those metropolitans. The greater Philadelphia region, on the East Coast, counts a population of just under 6 million, the city itself only 1.5 million; on the West Coast, the city of Los Angeles is home to nearly 4 million people, but the Los Angeles “metroplex” has grown to nearly 13 million. Hence the paradox: we are a nation clustered around our major cities, we rely on their infrastructure—transportation networks, education and research facilities, cultural institutions—and we remain deeply ambivalent about the city and city-ness itself.

At the same time, despite the flight from the city after the Second World War, despite the proliferation of physical environments shaped primarily by the automobile and private housing, Americans seemed no closer to solving the question of how to live the good life than they had been at the beginning of the century. Indeed, to judge by any number of sociological studies, public opinion surveys, and news reports, they were arguably further from finding that grail than ever before. A country of exiles, bowling alone, inhabiting a geography of nowhere. “At the conclusion of the 20th century,” sociologist Robert Putnam concluded, “ordinary Americans shared [a] sense of civic malaise.” The longing to belong that underscored the twentieth century had not been satisfied, the beloved community that Josiah Royce had anticipated had not yet come to pass.

Into that loneliness and alienation emerged two movements promising to heal what ailed us. One was made up of a loose assemblage of sociologists, philosophers, lawyers, and public policy types who called themselves “communitarians.” They have attempted to formulate an ethos to navigate between an excessive individualism and an overbearing state. The other was a group of planners, designers, and architects who called themselves the “new urbanists.” These new urbanists believe that America’s sterile built environment has contributed mightily to that civic malaise, and that with better planning we can create meaningful communities.

Though each had its own roots, the two movements converged in the 1990s. The communitarians offered a bracing critique of the nation’s social ills, and they argued that a revived “community” would fill its void of values. The new urbanists envisioned landscapes that would facilitate exactly the ethos the communitarians advocated. Space could be reshaped into meaningful places, which in turn would foster the community at the heart of communitarianism. Both groups came to national prominence in the last decade of the twentieth century, both diagnosed the same ailment in American life, and both have been ambivalent about the role of the city in curing the “crisis of community” and have been largely silent on the larger issue of how to invigorate our public sphere.

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Response to xchrom (Reply #1)

Sun Aug 17, 2014, 01:37 PM

5. the old suburbs (or edge towns--think "small town with cul-de-sacs") already have such nuclei

in place: they're not simply solid mats of lawnless Italianate rowhouses interrupted only by Chipotles and Costcos
of course these old!burbs are the ones that weather mortgage crashes better than the post-1980 houses (which end up 25-33% foreclosed, even today in 2014), which were built as investments rather than residences (so some of them are starting to rot)

if you choose the "heatmap" option at http://www.walkscore.com you can see exactly how a city's structured

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Aug 17, 2014, 01:10 PM

2. "Does this suburb make me look fat?" ...never heard that one before.

 

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Aug 17, 2014, 01:11 PM

3. Just my two cents, but I think there are cultural factors that go beyond walking v. driving

 

that are affecting obesity and weight gain in the USA. I've noticed that attitudes toward food and eating tend to be different in urban areas (I've lived in both 'burbs and cities). Right now I live on the edge of a city, although the lifestyle and housing is more suburban in nature. There is very, very little obesity at my kids' high school. However, I notice more obesity among kids and parents in the close-in suburbs. Some of the difference is socio-economic, with wealthier areas seeing less obesity. But that's not the whole story. In our neighborhood many people emphasize healthy eating (going to farmers' markets, etc.), and that attitude tends to be contagious. Of course, it is much easier to eat healthily if you can afford fresh produce and the like. I guess what I'm saying is that it is all very complicated.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Aug 17, 2014, 01:26 PM

4. This has long been an interest of mine

 

We used to have traditional neighborhood development.

Now we have "dead worm"

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Aug 17, 2014, 01:38 PM

6. I go for a jog in Lewisville (a suburb of Dallas),

and I am alone on the streets.


I go for a jog in the M-streets area of Dallas, and I am crossing paths with many other people out jogging, walking, or walking their dog.


But, that isn't so relevant to this particular article's point, because in neither case am I (or the other folks) trying to get anywhere other than healthier.

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