In 2011, Urban Design 4 Health (UD4H) conducted a study on: the neighbourhood features preferred by residents in Metro Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area; and the relationship between modes of transportation, utilitarian walking patterns, and the body weights of residents, and the walkability of residents’ current neighbourhoods and their preferences for walkable or automobile oriented neighbourhoods. This study was conducted for four public health authorities under the Healthy Canada by Design (HCBD) Initiative funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC) through the Coalitions Linking Action and Science to Prevention (CLASP) program.
“This study, which was released in a 2012 technical report entitled, City and Regional Residential Preference Survey Results for Toronto and Vancouver: A CLASP Final Report, was the first of its kind in Canada” according to Dr. Monica Campbell, Director of Healthy Public Policy at Toronto Public Health, who managed the project.
The lead researcher on the project, Dr. Larry Frank, explained that the study also sought to address a nagging causal question. “While many studies have demonstrated that people who live in walkable neighbourhoods walk more than those who do not, we have had difficulty separating out the influence of neighbourhood design on travel options from the neighbourhood preference of the residents who live in those neighbourhoods”
In the coming months, UD4H will be releasing a summary report that presents the findings from the residential preference study for Metro Vancouver in a user-friendly format. In anticipation of that event, this post re-visits the 2012 report, The Walkable City: Neighbourhood Design, Neighbourhood Preferences and their Impact on Travel Choices and Human Health, that was based on the Toronto findings from that technical report.
Study Findings – Neighbourhood Features Preferred by Residents in Toronto
The residential preferences study was based on 1,525 surveys that were completed by residents in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA); 3/4 of which were completed by residents in Toronto and 1/4 of which were completed by residents in the GTA communities surrounding the City of Toronto.
The study revealed an overwhelming preference for walkable neighbourhoods across the Greater Toronto Area, with that preference being strongest in the City of Toronto, where 75% of survey participants indicated that they “strongly preferred” a walkable neighbourhood. The specific walkable neighbourhood features that were most strongly desired by Toronto residents were: having shops and services within walking distance of their homes; and having a variety of small and medium sized food stores within walking distance of their homes. The study also found that there is a strong latent demand for walkable neighbourhood features among residents in the City who live in auto-oriented neighbourhoods.
Study Findings – Travel Patterns & Walkability
When the travel patterns of survey participants who live in the most walkable neighbourhoods in the City of Toronto, were compared against the travel patterns of survey participants who live in the least walkable neighbourhoods in Toronto, it was found that they:
- Walk for utilitarian reasons 2.7 times as often each week;
- Use transit 2.5 times as often;
- Drive 4 times less often ;
- Drive 1/6th as far (i.e. 45 km instead of 278 km each week); and
- Have lower body weights (BMI of 25.7 instead of 26.8).
Study Findings – Neighbourhood Design & Neighbourhood Preferences
When the travel patterns of survey participants across the GTA were compared against both, the design of the residents’ current neighbourhoods, and the residents’ preferences for walkable or auto-oriented neighbourhoods, it was found that residents who live in walkable neighbourhoods do significantly more utilitarian walking, use transit more, and drive less often and less far, than those living in auto-oriented neighbourhoods regardless of their neighbourhood preferences.
The study found that, compared to survey participants who prefer, and live in, auto-oriented neighbourhoods across the GTA, people who prefer, and live in, highly walkable neighbourhoods:
- Walk 2.6 times as often for utilitarian purposes;
- Use transit 2.5 times as often;
- Drive 150 fewer kilometres each week; and
- Have lower body weights (1 BMI lower).
Frank, Lawrence, Jim Chapman, Suzanne Kershaw and Sarah Kavage, City and Regional Residential Preference Survey Results for Toronto and Vancouver: A CLASP Final Report, Prepared for Toronto by Health under the Healthy Canada by Design CLASP Initiative by Urban Design 4 Health, Ltd., March 2012. 133 pages.
Toronto Public Health.The Walkable City: Neighbourhood Design and Preferences, Travel Choices and Health. Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Monica Campbell, Shawn Chirrey, Larry Frank and Jim Chapman. April 2012. 48 pages.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta