Movement and Physical Activity Within Urban Landscapes

A view of British pedestrains at a road crossing, from above. 1400 pixels

If we are going to use urban environments as a lever to improve health and reduce health inequalities, we need to understand:

  • how people move and/or do not move around towns and cities
  • where they go
  • what they do.

There is already a lot of research in this area, and increasing numbers take advantage of GPS devices which are able to track people in space and time. However, much of the existing work focus either just on physical activity and/or on one or two environmental attributes at a time. For example, research has looked at whether and how people use green spaces in the city for physical activity.

In this workstream, we recognise that our urban fabric is made up of many different land uses, facilities, services and more. Borrowing an idea from ecology, we conceptualise the built enviroment in a town or city as a landscape. A landscape does not contain fixed neighbourhood boundaries, but it does have particular habitats within which some types of people spend more (or even all) of their time.

Rather than picking one or two aspects of urban environments that we think are important for health and wellbeing and then conducting a study to see if the associations we anticipate are present, we believe we should allow people's activity within the urban landscape to reveal what is important to them. In practice, this means we should consider measuring everywhere people go, and thinking about where they spend more or less time doing more or less interesting and immersive things.

We hope to find the extent to which urban landscape influences where people go and what they do, how this might vary by individual characteristics such as age, gender and affluence, and how the urban landscape might itself be altered to promote its healthy and sustainable use. We are developing the data and methods necessary to test these ideas. Our projects include the SPACES Study.

Do people actually use the facilities in their home neighbourhood?

Researchers at our Neighbourhoods and Communities programme explored children’s use of facilities in and around their homes. To do this, they used data from GPS devices worn by the children for eight days.

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