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Thread: Research topic question

  1. #1
    Dec 2008
    the delta

    Research topic question

    Good morning Cyburbia!

    I am working on a grad school research project about how the urban form affects a teenager's outlook and expectations on life. More specifically, does living in a walkable community (versus a strictly suburban form) change your perspective on how your life should be? Do you expect a vehicle, do you get an allowance, do you have a part-time job, do you volunteer, do you spend time at a public park, etc? A problem I foresee is that that the census defines metro areas generally as denser areas. We all know density does not speak anything to the walkability or urban form of a neighborhood (Phoenix/Las Vegas are *dense* but certainly not walkable). How can I distinguish urban versus suburban forms in a way that is easily recognizable to those who otherwise wouldn't know or care about the difference? How can I separate suburban and urban forms within the same city boundaries?

    Last edited by stroskey; 11 Feb 2009 at 10:39 AM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    May 2005
    New Town
    An interesting topic. My main concern would be that you have a lot of questions in there about "outlook" that may be very challenging to measure, let alone control for variables to determine if the built environment is even a factor. For example, home life, relationships with parents, sociology of school, socio-economic status, and individual personality may all play important factors in teenage self-perception (whether they feel happy, hopeful, what expectations they have for their life, etc.).

    So, that will be a challenging aspect to deal with.

    Otherwise, I think you will definitely have to develop your own definition of "walkable" because you won't find much useful census info that you can relate, I would suspect (unless you can identify specific areas within cities that are and are not walkable and then search the tract census data for that specific area. Its possible, but tedious...). Also, not all "walkable" places are the same. Here, for example, we have walkable neighborhoods (in the sense that there are sidewalks and connections to schools and parks) built on the Superblock pattern such that each neighborhood is surrounded by large arterials. One can circulate easily in these neighborhoods and access certain amenities, but other things like food markets and other essentials requires driving to another location. So, there is variety in what is "walkable" as well.

    My advice is to look at existing literature for a definition that can work for you. Below are a few possibilities. You might also look at some public health/physical planning literature and even things on mental health of teenagers as it relates to physical environment.

    Check out this Smart Growth Online page on walkable neighborhoods. Has some info that gets at definitions of "walkable" you could use. Make sure to scour the "materials" section toward the bottom of the page: http://www.smartgrowth.org/about/pri...rin=4&res=1680

    Also, here is a link to the Robert Wood Johnson Active Living program website. This is a resource page that may also have useful info about defining "walkable" in a way you can use for your project: http://www.activelivingresearch.org/alr/resourcesearch

    Lastly, here is an abstract from an article by Michael Southworth (a professor at Berkeley that has done a good amount of work on the ineraction of social behavior and urban form). The article is called "Designing the Walkable City": http://scitation.aip.org/getabs/serv...cvips&gifs=yes

    The quality of the pedestrian environment is key to encouraging people to choose walking over driving. Six criteria are presented for design of a successful pedestrian network: (1) connectivity; (2) linkage with other modes; (3) fine grained land use patterns; (4) safety; (5) quality of path; and (6) path context. To achieve walkable cities in the United States it will be necessary to assess current walkability conditions, revise standards and regulations, research walking behavior in varied settings, promote public education and participation in pedestrian planning, and encourage collaboration and interdisciplinary education between transportation engineers and the design professions.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  3. #3
    Interesting idea, but its going to be very hard to carry out.

    Here is an article you should check out:

    Linking objectively measured physical activity with objectively measured urban form Findings from SMARTRAQ
    American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 28, Issue 2, Pages 117-125
    L. Frank, T. Schmid, J. Sallis, J. Chapman, B. Saelens

  4. #4
    Oct 2008
    North Carolina
    Also have to agree that this is a really excellent idea. I don't think there's any doubt that the built environment affects a young person's outlook.

    Obviously there will be some challenges in carrying this out, but it's certainly a very worthy project.

  5. #5

    Dec 2007
    Front Range, CO
    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post

    How can I distinguish urban versus suburban forms in a way that is easily recognizable to those who otherwise wouldn't know or care about the difference? How can I separate suburban and urban forms within the same city boundaries?
    I hope you can narrow down the "outlook and expectations" part, as this is needed inquiry. So,

    You need easy, logical metrics to crunch meaningfully and to associate with place. average FAR/sq mi, average setbacks from street, block length, tortuosity/connectivity, proximity to commercial, % sidewalks completed/connected, DU/ac are what come immediately to mind. You'll need some sort of grid (e.g 500m on a side) so you can have an equal chance of randomness/association when you send out your survey.

    I also second Gotta Speakup's cite, and more of Frank's work, and Sallis is doing interesting work as well (JAPA 74:2 for your purposes). Frank's prof at UW, Anne Vernez-Moudon and another of her students (Chanam Lee) have done the best work so far IMHO on walkability-connectivity. Also the JAPA 74:4 has some work in there - esp. the Shandas and Messer - that may be useful to you.

    If I may suggest the work of the Kaplans and their nearby nature/attention restoration theory work as well, to meaningfully consider areas with less FAR or maybe for your survey as a destination choice.

    Go git 'em!

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