New Paper on the Role of Micro-Scale Neighborhood Features in Promoting Walking Published by Madeleine Steinmetz-Wood

Congratulations to research group member Madeleine Steinmetz-Wood, Dr. Ahmed El-Geneidy, and Dr. Nancy A. Ross for their newly published article in Health & Place. Their paper, Moving to policy-amenable options for built environment research: The role of micro-scale neighborhood environment in promoting walking, examines how micro-scale features of the built environment (such as benches, crossing signals, and walking paths) affect physical activity.

To investigate, the authors surveyed adults from Montreal and Toronto about their walking behavior. They also audited respondents’ neighborhoods using the Virtual-STEPS tool. This innovative tool, developed by Steinmetz-Wood, Dr. Ross, and other GeoSDH research group members, uses Google Street View to remotely assess a neighborhood’s environment. Authors then linked survey responses to Virtual-STEPS audits to examine the relationship between micro-scale features and walking.

Curb cuts and benches are examples of micro-scale features of the built environment.
Photo credit: ©Dylan Passmore.

Results from the study indicate that micro-scale features of a neighborhood tend to promote leisure walking (walking for exercise or pleasure). However, results related to utilitarian walking, such as walking to work or the grocery store, were inconclusive. Conversely, macro-scale features of a neighborhood (such as density or street connectivity) promoted utilitarian walking, but not leisure walking. 

This study has important implications for policy. Most studies on the subject have examined the impact of macro-scale features of the environment on walking. However, changing these aspects of the environment often requires completely restructuring the neighborhood layout, which is costly. By comparison, improving micro-scale features is a relatively cost-effective way to enhance the neighborhood environment and promote physical activity.  Considering this, municipalities may choose to make budget-friendly upgrades that can increase leisure walking and, in turn, the health and well-being of the population.

Photo credit: ©Dylan Passmore.