How does the community you live in impact your wellness?
Where I live, a lot of people, myself included, live in a kind of semi-rural setting: large wooded lots, houses on a couple of acres or much more, spread far apart with woods and fields, and country roads in between them. It’s beautiful and peaceful – this setting definitely contributes to my sense of wellness on a daily basis.
There’s a huge new mixed-use subdivision coming to the outskirts of my town. It’ll be much more densely populated and busier than many of us here are used to now, like a mini-city, with homes and apartments as well as taller commercial buildings, stores and restaurants, schools, and parks, all within walking and biking distance.
Which way of living is “healthier?”
Living in the more natural setting gives me the feeling of living “green” and healthy. However, I know that the way I live – in a low density area where there is a relatively low concentration of people and homes – is considered by land use planning, environmental and public health experts to be neither optimal for human health nor the health of the planet.
The further away we live from other people, stores, schools and our workplaces means more driving, with the environmental degradation and human health impacts that go with it. And the farther apart we are from each other, the more wild habitat must be destroyed to build longer roads and infrastructure for water and waste.
It can be harder to be active in the type of community I live in, too – you can read my full-fledged bellyache about the challenges of being active in rural communities here.
The ability to walk to destinations like schools and stores has an enormous impact on daily physical activity levels for both children and adults. If you have ever worn a FitBit and tried to track your daily steps you understand completely how helpful it is to walk during the day for practical reasons, like to get to the store, rather than having to go out of your way to take a walk.
There are other elements, besides infrastructure for being physically active, that have identified as elements of community design that promote human health. The CDC’s “Healthy Communities Checklist” includes low crime, air quality, easy access to healthy and affordable food, socioeconomic, racial and age diversity, and opportunities for social interaction.
Regardless of what type of place you live in, there are always things we can do to encourage our communities to better support healthy lifestyles by their very design.
There are resources below – like the checklist mentioned in the paragraph above – that might give you some ideas.
How does the place you live affect your sense of wellness? What do you think makes a “healthy community?” What would make your community healthier?
Active Living Research Tools & Measures – Active Living Research has a wealth of resources for improving community design to promote wellness. This link takes you to their tools and measures section, where you’ll find easy to use checklists that can help community members assess what types of changes might make their community healthier.
CDC’s Healthy Places Page – Lots of information and resources here, including a Healthy Community Design Toolkit.
Smart Growth America has terrific information for community advocates who are ready to dig in and work with policymakers on community design issues. Start on this link to read a good explanation of the relationship between human health and community design.