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Thread: Activity level, place and self-selection: will New Urbanism really help in the war on obesity?

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Activity level, place and self-selection: will New Urbanism really help in the war on obesity?

    In the United States, there's a phenomenon of "fat cities" and "thin cities" - cities and regions where obesity is prominent, and those where it's rare. While some cities may be "fat" due to climate, culture or poverty, or "thin" because of a dense, walkable environment, it seems like some "thin cities" may be that way because they're self-selecting for a fit population. Denver and Boulder, for example, which attract thousands of new residents every year, drawn to the ski slopes, trails and "fourteeners" as much as a new job. Nothing is stopping an obese person from moving to Denver, or a thin person from moving to Houston, a city often cited as having a high percentage of obesity. Still, for a fit mountain-climbing, back country-skiing, triathlon-competing type, Denver is far more likely to be on their short list than Houston. If those who are sedentary, a natural environment and climate conducive to outdoors recreation aren't going to be must-haves, and they'll be less likely to seek out a place like Denver. I don't think obese people self-select to Houston because of a thriving restaurant scene and low grocery prices. It's just that the mountains probably don't matter as much to them, and the outdoorsy crowd really isn't flocking there.

    The real estate market is changing, with the preferences of Generation X and Y for urban living, compared to more suburban-oriented Baby Boomers. However, all other things being equal -- income, education, age -- are there differences in what people want out of their neighborhoods based on activity levels?

    Walkable neighborhoods are certainly healthier than conventional subdivisions, but will those who can benefit from them move there in numbers as great as those who are already active? I'm wondering if traditional neighborhood development will end up like Denver; a self-selected enclave for the thin and active. Communities that are built to be more walkable from the start will be appealing to those for whom walking is important; among them people who are already physically active. For someone who is sedentary, walkability may not be seen as a critical element, and neighborhood form won't be as important. It's not that the sedentary will gravitate to conventional subdivisions, but rather, the more active would stay away from them.

    So, just like we have thin cities and fat cities, will the future give us thin neighborhoods and fat neighborhoods, each with their own distinct form? Will a neighborhood designed around TND or NU principles attract the sedentary as much as those who are active?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    People choose where they live for a large number of reasons. Most models of residential choice, until quite recently, didn't include a walkability or physical activity variable. They focused on jobs, housing costs, racial mix, etc.

    As time goes on, however, I think you are right. There is going to be increased self selection. As evidence grows that certain neighborhoods and metropolitan areas promote health, people with resources are going to choose these areas.

    The result is going to be both increased segregation by income and by weight/physical activity status.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    That's an interesting question and elements therein may be my next research focus. Nevertheless, I don't see Denver as a 'thin' city per se - I saw many more attractive, fit women on a recent trip to SoCal, albeit many were overbalanced with plastic.

    I will say that even out where I am in Conservatopia (for the schools for our daughter and garden space), walkability is part of the overall quality of life. There aren't stores to walk to but you can ride your bike there without too much stress or safety concerns. Rather, walking is the typical self-directed activity done with the dog or the neighbor. The green spaces function as habitat corridor, stormwater, and contain paved/gravel trails and are connected to other green spaces and sidewalks. The developers have caught on that the houses they slap up can be slapped up in the middle of some sidewalks and people might overlook the job they did of slapping up their house. Win-win-win.

    But the point of self-selection is key. Planners are deluding ourselves if we think we can design and build for diversity. We can only provide facilities and see what happens. People will sort to where they want to live.
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    "Fat City" ---> "Thin City" via... Legilslation?

    L.A. Times headlines:
    "New York trans fat ban has cut consumption, study finds"
    "Since the city banned trans fats in restaurant food in 2008, diners have consumed 2.4 fewer grams of trans fats per lunch, which should mean better health, researchers say."
    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul...t-ban-20120717

  5. #5
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    A walkable development pattern is only one facet of what is needed to create healthy lifestyles:

    Transportation fitness: selecting bicycling or walking instead of motorized transportation
    This is affected by how well the built environment is connected by bicycle and pedestrian usable routes, and on the pattern of development, how frequently does a pedestrian pass by services and retail supplying its needs.

    Exercise fitness: choosing to perform a physical activity which has health benefits
    This is often a social choice to join friends doing the activity, sometimes it is a fun activity in which fitness is just a byproduct. Different social groups need different opportunities for exercise. Disc golf, bicycle pumptrack, sport facilities, exercise paths, walking routes; each are interesting to different social groups.

    Nutrition: Choosing healthy foods, not eating too much
    Eating fresh, unprocessed foods are often better than processed foods. Nutrition education is important, only knowledge can help an individual overcome the body's desire for unhealthy foods. Without education, it is often unclear what is a healthy food. Locally grown foods may not have any nutritional advantage, however since they are generally unprocessed they have that as an advantage. Community gardens can provide low cost healthy food.

    Access to healthy food: often low cost food is processed and sugar-laden. Home gardening, community gardens, farmers markets, quality retail markets all can provide high quality food and in some cases lower prices.

    Municipal planning and services: transportation planning, park and recreation planning, zoning and land use regulation to allow desired uses, city code restrictions on gardening, urban farming and farmers markets. Increased sidewalk snow plowing for year round pedestrian access.

    So a multisector approach at the municipal level to solving the obesity->{heart disease, diabetes, stroke} epidemic could include:

    Nutrition education
    Regulation which allow/encourage farmers markets
    Nonmotorized routes connecting residential-schools-retail/service-employment
    Dense, mixed development so that the above are within walking and/or bicycling range
    Complete streets, safe, attractive bicycle/pedestrian experience
    Community garden opportunities
    Education on how to garden food
    Regulation that encourages urban farming
    Organized social physical activity opportunities for various groups
    Recreation facilities (fun activities and exercise) near residential areas
    Bicycle amenities (bikeracks, repair stations)
    Double up token system at farmers market to increase healthy food purchase power of those on food assistance
    Include desired changes in municipal planning at many levels
    Increased municipal levels of service to pedestrians and bicyclists

  6. #6
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I would certainly agree that active people self-select places that support those activities. I bike ride a lot and on another forum I frequent you will see a lot of discussion by people considering moves to certain locales asking about what the riding is like in certain places. These people are already active and are looking for places that will support that. For some, this is important enough to factor into where they will settle.

    Altering behavior through legislation, zoning regs, infrastructure development, etc. is a bit if a different beast. I think of the food deserts in big urban areas where not only is access to places for activity curtailed (because of limited access to open space, for example) but just finding a decent food supply might require three bus transfers. Those are some huge obstacles that, if not there, might not necessarily produce marathon runners, but could certainly bring things like diabetes incidence down.

    Can New Urbanism can make us fitter? I would say not necessarily. I think the way that architects often think about spaces is very useful here. They talk about design of a place but also its “programming” – the things that happen in and activate those areas. The built fabric is only part of the equation. Without the programming to support it, it will be hard to alter the behavior of those not already in the habit of being active.
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    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Perhaps I have misread all of this but don't most people go to areas where they can get a job? After college I (and all of my friends) moved to cities where we found employment. Unless you are independently wealthy or can work from home how is this even a choice? I suppose given the choice between Denver and Houston the fit person might choose Denver but how does the employment situation affect the choices?
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    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    New Ubanism can help with obesity, as can many other factors such as education. Howver, the greatest single variable when predicting obesity rates is income.
    Maintaining enthusiasm in the face of crushing apathy.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    Perhaps I have misread all of this but don't most people go to areas where they can get a job? After college I (and all of my friends) moved to cities where we found employment. Unless you are independently wealthy or can work from home how is this even a choice? I suppose given the choice between Denver and Houston the fit person might choose Denver but how does the employment situation affect the choices?
    The forum discussions I was referring to are vague in this regard. Most say things like "I am considering relocating to XXX city. What kind of riding can I access within an hour's drive from the city?" Who knows who these people are. Maybe they are choosing between offers, maybe they are out of college and considering moving in with a friend or sibling to look for work, I really don't know. Maybe they are deciding which college to go to. My observation was entirely anecdotal and terribly unscientific But it struck me in the context of this discussion that at least some people are taking these factors into consideration. I've also seen people posting saying 'I am moving to XXX City, what part of time will give me best access to trails for riding?" So, that speaks to the neighborhood level view Dan mentioned.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    Perhaps I have misread all of this but don't most people go to areas where they can get a job? After college I (and all of my friends) moved to cities where we found employment. Unless you are independently wealthy or can work from home how is this even a choice? I suppose given the choice between Denver and Houston the fit person might choose Denver but how does the employment situation affect the choices?
    There are lots of reasons why people migrate. But lets say you've migrated to a metro area because after much angst you found a job, as did your spousal unit. Now you have choices where exactly to live - you make tradeoffs for amenties - hedonic valuation. You and the spouse will choose the amenities you want. If you are dedicated runners or bike riders, you will find those amenities nearby in your location choice or you won't buy. You may choose an extra 15 minute drive to consume those amenities.

    You can tell people select to preferred amenities by the rents and land value. The properties with access to the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle are priced much higher than those, say, 2000m away. Same with the Proximate Principle for greenspace. I did a presentation this past March and found during the prep that there is no proximate principle valuation in my part of town. Why not? The developers on this side of town sprinkled so much greenspace throughout that all houses are within a couple hundred meters of a trail, open space, park. The daughter thought our bike ride this morning was wondrous as we connected trails for over an hour and saw frogs, birds, a snake skeleton. We chose to live close to these amenities and have a bit of a drive to the light-rail stop.
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  11. #11
    The culture of a place is much more than just physical characteristics. The reason why people are fat or thin, I'd say, has much more to do with, for example, education and wealth and how that meshes with their own place history.

    Second, TND or NU neighborhoods, where they bring something new, are simply microcosms of "walkability" with little integration into the city/regional fabric. And where they don't bring something new, well, then it was something else that created walkability and the NU development just needed to reflect what was around it.

    So many planners have it bassackwards. The built realm is a product of people, values, time, history, geography. To say that it is the other way around is deterministist paradoxical bullshit, which I might expect from a Roarkian architect from the 60s, but not from the planners of today.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    So many planners have it bassackwards. The built realm is a product of people, values, time, history, geography. To say that it is the other way around is deterministist paradoxical bullshit, which I might expect from a Roarkian architect from the 60s, but not from the planners of today.
    I'm no NU fadboy, but just because planners write plans for supportive, enabling built environments doesn't mean they have it bass-ackwards or are communisitic deterministic socialistic little Hitlers cramming their communitarian views down the throats of patriot-Americans.

    That is: a little over the top, there chief.
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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    There are lots of reasons why people migrate. But lets say you've migrated to a metro area because after much angst you found a job, as did your spousal unit. Now you have choices where exactly to live - you make tradeoffs for amenties - hedonic valuation. You and the spouse will choose the amenities you want. If you are dedicated runners or bike riders, you will find those amenities nearby in your location choice or you won't buy. You may choose an extra 15 minute drive to consume those amenities.

    You can tell people select to preferred amenities by the rents and land value. The properties with access to the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle are priced much higher than those, say, 2000m away. Same with the Proximate Principle for greenspace. I did a presentation this past March and found during the prep that there is no proximate principle valuation in my part of town. Why not? The developers on this side of town sprinkled so much greenspace throughout that all houses are within a couple hundred meters of a trail, open space, park. The daughter thought our bike ride this morning was wondrous as we connected trails for over an hour and saw frogs, birds, a snake skeleton. We chose to live close to these amenities and have a bit of a drive to the light-rail stop.
    I think this is pretty spot on. People pick a metro area for a job but within that metro, they pick a neighborhood that bests suit them for what they can afford. It took me nearly a year to find my house in Jamestown because I wanted a big yard and proximity to one of two specific large parks where I could run my dog off leash. Then I found two suitable houses within weeks of one another!
    Last edited by Linda_D; 03 Nov 2012 at 6:49 PM.
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    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    What Linda_D and ColoGI said.

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    Cyburbian
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    Houston, a city often cited as having a high percentage of obesity...I don't think obese people self-select to Houston because of a thriving restaurant scene and low grocery prices. It's just that the mountains probably don't matter as much to them, and the outdoorsy crowd really isn't flocking there.

    I work as an urban designer in Houston now, designing subdivisions and master plan communities. I am also introducing town centers in a few projects, and trying to incorporate as much walkability as possible, from my previous projects in Chicagoland and to a lesser degree, Kansas. I will admit Houston has a LOT of catching up to do. Here are a few of my Texican observations about Houston as to why it appears the way it does.

    1. First and foremost, Houston is the biggest city not to have zoning. There is a building and development code known locally as Chapter 42. It is unlike any zoning ordinance/design guidelines I have worked with before. I'm not saying it's better or worse but completely different.
    2. Houston has very few communities/suburbs. For the fourth largest metro area in the country I would say there are probably only 30? suburbs at most as opposed to +250 in Chicagoland which has the same population and is 1/3 the size. On the flip side, we have about 500 municipal utility districts called MUDs which are semi-autonomous "subdivisions" (although not to be confused with homeowners associations).
    3. Houston, which is designed like a perfect octagon, has a complex system of bayous, many of which are paved with steep-sloping concrete walls. I was very shocked that these areas, which would be perfect areas for greenways were not developed as such since they afford great connectivity. I "think" there was a lawsuit or complaint decades ago that led to no bike paths or passive recreation along these complex system of bayous which run hundreds of miles through the city.
    4. The town is VERY property-rights driven, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's Texas and that's the way things are done down here, especially Houston, which is very entrepreneurial. It is not a city or metro area that prides itself on complex codes, overlay districts, awareness initiatives.
    5. Utilities throughout the existing areas are often above-ground leaving little areas for additional pathways. There is also little to know signage control although it's improved in the outlying areas in newer development along the fringe.
    6. People DO workout here, but they prefer to drive everywhere. Fortunately, I live only 3 miles from my job and they just opened a new branch of my gym within 1/2 mile last month. I am still surprised that everyone uses the car for everything. There are some neighborhoods that attract alot of foot traffic. Memorial Park and Hermann Park are two of the few large parks in the city but it seems like everyone prefers to still drive there from elsewhere.
    7. Our highway system is top-notch but if you don't own a car forget it. There is no mass transit, save for a streetcar line from Downtown to the Medical Center. There is also no commuter line or Amtrak either.
    8. We have plenty of top-notch restaurants and hotels, as well as the biggest theater district outside of Broadway. Most of the money for the arts and sciences comes from big oil money. We ARE the energy capital of the US

    I love Houston very much. And I am very proud of the accomplishments the City, county, and developers are making. It is a process like anything else. I am very fortunate to have creative input in my job as well as a supportive employer that wants new methods of doing planning, where acceptable. That could be something as small as adding landscaped parking islands (something many other cities take for granted) or allowing a little extra setback in the corner of the development for a trail. Granted, we are still a long way away from connecting everything together. But planning doesn't happen over night.
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    Cyburbian
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    Oh one other point for all of the walkability, healthy-living, TODs, TNDs, community gardens, why don't more of you planners practice get your fat buts off the APA soap box and practice what you preach. Plenty of you are pretty overweight yourselves, men and women. When I am at a state APA conference, which is usually in a nice hotel in some downtown, I am running on the treadmill, weightlifting, or if there is no gym, getting some exercise with a walk (and no I don't consider the early bird golf outing as a comparable high-intensity workout). Some of you are guzzling down beer at the bar off the lobby during the keynote or munching down on the continental breakfast buffet lines at 730 before the first session.

    I love all of you hypocrites :-P
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    The environment does affect activity, but its not just urbanism

    If I could chime in here, self-selection aside, there are clear and documented environmental design effects on behavior. Something as simple as making stairs visible in a building or placing a label on the elevator button has been shown to increase use of the stairs.
    Even with regards to self-selection, those living in suburban environments are increasingly demanding and valuing sidewalks, walking trails, and parks within their subdivisions. I think where simplistic versions of New Urbanism get it wrong is in advocating that only urban environments lead to physical activity. For me, since moving into the city I certainly walk more but get less exercise than when I lived in a college town with quick access to trails. A nearby park with a linear 3-mi trail around a lake is my favorite jogging location, not the city blocks of my neighborhood. I believe Landscape Architecture has featured some research in this area, but while connectivity is one factor, other factors include having a destination to walk to and having trails or open spaces ....
    The place I exercised the least was a very urban area I once lived in with lots of traffic ... there was a canal nearby that would've been the perfect place for a linear trail, but was instead fairly neglected with only short, disconnected segments ...

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Well.. one quick and dirty check would be see if there's any relationship between walkability and obesity rates. A quick look at the walk score map for NYC (picked because I have the info readily at hand) vs the City's obesity survey map doesn't suggest much of a correlation:

    - obesity rates are highest in the following neighborhoods (in no particular order, neighborhoods averaging more than twice the entire city's obesity rate): Central Harlem, South Bronx, Fordham, Bedford Stuyvescent, East New York, Bayside Meadows/Jamaica, North Staten Island
    - walkability, as measured by the "walk score" app, is rated in the lowest brackets in the following neighborhoods (again, in no particular order): North-east Bronx, Pelham, Bayside Meadows/Jamaica, Canarsie, East New York, Far Rockaway, Coney Island, Bensonhurst, South Staten Island (in short, these are the NYC neighborhoods where one categorically needs a car).

    Only Jamaica/Bayside Meadows matches for lowest walkability AND highest obesity. Income seems to correlate best with obesity, followed by, perhaps, ethnicity. I know I've read studies associating avg age with rates of obesity. Urban form and walkability, perhaps not so much? Interestingly, there's a weird proximity effect - whereas (and with the exception of Jamaica), none of the low-walkable neighborhoods correspond with neighborhoods where the City has identified obesity to be a problem (based on the twice the city rate), with one exception (Central Harlem), all of the high obesity neighborhoods directly border at least one low-walkability neighborhood. Not sure what that means, if anything.

    Interestingly, I have seen other studies that have found a relationship between the amount of available park space and obesity.. in Seattle and San Diego, but it may be that the most "walkable" neighborhoods don't have the most usable park area.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 03 Jan 2013 at 1:31 PM.

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I think trying to connect good, walkable design exclusively with a reduction in obesity rates is too simplistic. Good design that promotes walkability is not JUST about making people more active. It reduces crime, connects neighbors, helps build social networks, allows for easier and better access to necessary goods and services, etc. It can also help stimulate economic activity. That is, zoning approaches and design that integrates smaller retail spaces among housing can provide affordable entry points to the market for entrepreneurs with less start-up capital. Contrast that with a suburban setting where the only retail available may be suited for enormous big box stores. That’s a very different economic environment for small startups to operate in.

    Good, functional, multi-faceted, walkable and denser development isn’t a panacea for any one issue, but it sets the stage/creates the environment for many positive developments that extend beyond physical activity. We should be thinking about how to aggregate these positive benefits in newly built areas and not dis-aggregate them to link with specific, single issues. Its helpful to study those things, but I think overall the well-intentioned attempt to separate incompatible uses has swung too far and has not done as good a job in encouraging the development of compatible ones. I think NU and the other approaches that employ similar principles attempts to get at just this.
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  20. #20
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    Well.. one quick and dirty check would be see if there's any relationship between walkability and obesity rates. A quick look at the walk score map for NYC (picked because I have the info readily at hand) vs the City's obesity survey map doesn't suggest much of a correlation:

    - obesity rates are highest in the following neighborhoods (in no particular order, neighborhoods averaging more than twice the entire city's obesity rate): Central Harlem, South Bronx, Fordham, Bedford Stuyvescent, East New York, Bayside Meadows/Jamaica, North Staten Island
    - walkability, as measured by the "walk score" app, is rated in the lowest brackets in the following neighborhoods (again, in no particular order): North-east Bronx, Pelham, Bayside Meadows/Jamaica, Canarsie, East New York, Far Rockaway, Coney Island, Bensonhurst, South Staten Island (in short, these are the NYC neighborhoods where one categorically needs a car).

    Only Jamaica/Bayside Meadows matches for lowest walkability AND highest obesity. Income seems to correlate best with obesity, followed by, perhaps, ethnicity. I know I've read studies associating avg age with rates of obesity. Urban form and walkability, perhaps not so much? Interestingly, there's a weird proximity effect - whereas (and with the exception of Jamaica), none of the low-walkable neighborhoods correspond with neighborhoods where the City has identified obesity to be a problem (based on the twice the city rate), with one exception (Central Harlem), all of the high obesity neighborhoods directly border at least one low-walkability neighborhood. Not sure what that means, if anything.

    Interestingly, I have seen other studies that have found a relationship between the amount of available park space and obesity.. in Seattle and San Diego, but it may be that the most "walkable" neighborhoods don't have the most usable park area.
    IIRC off the top of my head, there are some TOD studies that show a slight drop, but whether the work is connected to transit and spare time to exercise is a strong factor. Can't look it up right now, but not 100% sure the outcomes are there.
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    To calculate how effective walking-friendly cities are, it's best to think about how much calories are burned by walking relative to how much must be burned for meaningful fat loss.

    I work out anywhere from 5-15 hours a week, and have dropped 23 pounds in the last four months in an attempt to get to 8% body fat. I will have dropped 30 pounds by the time I get there. During a typical workout session I median about 600 calories burned, though I've gone as high as 2,000.

    Burning fat is a complicated equation, but in general, 3500 calories burned = one pound of fat. There are minor complicating factors such as metabolism, fat stores, protein consumed and so on (if you get below 12% for example and don't keep your protein up, you will start burning muscle instead of fat.) However, in general, the "calories in, calories out" rule works very well and it is the most effective mantra in fitness communities for burning fat. It's essentially the law of thermodynamics applied to fitness.

    Your basal metabolic rate will account for most of your calories burned. Which is to say, a 5'10" man who is 30 years old weighing 170 lbs will burn 1,800 calories per day if he had stayed in bed all day. The average adult male and adult female, according to NCHS data, are 5'9.3" / 195.5lb and 5'3.8" / 166.2lb respectively. For simplicity's sake, we can round these to 5'9" / 195.5lb and 5'4" / 166lb. The current median US age is 37 according to 2010 census data.

    Using this data, the average male has a BMR of 1915 and the average female 1500.

    The next step is to measure walking speed. This is the data for walking speed by country. This study gives the US average at 12 seconds to clear 60 feet. Presumably they used New York City data, since that's what NY scores. This data gives Ottowa a very good walk score, and they score 13.7. Picking 13 feet as a good median, this gives us 3.1 miles per hour for the walk speed of a "walk friendly" city.

    The calories burned while walking is a contentious thing, but NutriStrategy gives data for this. I got roughly 300/hour using NutriStrategy's data, 314 using Wolfram Alpha's calculation for males, and 267 using Wolfram Alpha's calculation for females. Let's simplify things and just use 300, since that's more generous to the walkability-for-weightloss argument anyway.

    I couldn't find data on how much NYC residents walked and I also don't know how much the average US citizen walks. I've heard estimates as low as 3 and as high as 6 for New York. This is where we pull numbers out of our ass, so be generous and assume 4.5 miles per day, or about 450 calories.

    If the average US person walked that much, they would be burning, daily, 2365 calories (males) and 1950 calories (females).

    Here's the thing though: this is a difference of 450 calories, assuming optimal walking planning/scenarios. The average man is eating enough as it is, at that metabolic rate, to be 195.5lb at 5'9". Ignoring muscle mass (because I seriously doubt the average male knows how to bodybuild), the average 5'9" male should weigh something like 165lb, which is on the high end of healthy weights according to this BMI calculator.

    That's a 30 pound difference. And if someone is 195.5lbs, they are not eating calorie surpluses of 450 per day. They are eating a lot more than that. For comparison, a 4oz bag of cheetos is 680 calories. A bottle of coca cola is 240 calories. Even if you want to apply Bloomberg's ridiculous soda ban policy here, that's 200 calories per bottle.

    Weight gain is way, way more of a factor of how you eat than how you work out. When bodybuilders cut, they do cardio, sure, but the major change is in their diet. For the past 4 months, I have been averaging about 1200 calories per day -- some days have been as low as 800. My cardio has only been a minor supplement to that, because I'm impatient.

    Here are other factors of big cities that need to be taken into account, other than walkability:

    1. The residents in dense urban areas are younger, so they are more active to begin with.

    2.A The residents in dense urban areas are more educated, so they probably have a better understanding of what to eat in the first place. (This is, I think, the most major thing.)

    2.B The residents in dense urban areas are more educated, so they are more likely to know how to cook for themselves.

    3. The residents in dense urban areas have to pay more for food.

    Factors 2 and 3 are the big ones. As I believe I have sufficiently demonstrated, your eating choices matter a lot more than your activity level.

    My experience, while not a very good form of evidence, supports this hypothesis. During college I attended two universities:

    1. One was less educated (below average) with a ridiculously high acceptance rate and had dorms.

    2. One was far more selective (the 2nd hardest in TX in terms of entering class test scores / GPA) and had dorms.

    These campuses were similar in size for their on-campus student bodies: about 2,500-3,000 each. So we can assume the students walked comparable distances to class. (As a student, my walking time was roughly the same when living in the dorms.) As a student I walked about an hour a day for a 15-hour courseload -- I calculated this -- and I walk very fast, about 4mph. (The average student walks about half this fast, but I'd guess it's about 2.5 at the less educated university and 3 at the smart one.) So they burn less calories than New Yorkers, but they still burn an extra 250-300 calories per day.

    Here's the interesting thing.

    The uneducated university had a lot of overweight people, and quite a few who were blatantly obese. The educated one had far less. If someone were obese in the latter, it would stand out.

    Their meal plans were comparably terrible for both. Which is to say, you got the same unhealthy food at both universities.

    What differences did I notice? Eating habits, mostly -- the students at the uneducated university drank more soda and snacked on more junk food. That alone might have contributed to as much as an extra 1000 calories per day.

    So, to answer the question: will New Urbanism really help the war on obesity?

    Not in a major way. Only a massive shift toward a more scientific understanding of dieting will help obesity. Walking might cause everyone to drop a few pounds, but they'll still be fat. The major difference is in education. Until health starts to be thought of more scientifically and rigorously, and less like the voodoo new-age crap that gets published in the eating advice sections of MSN and Yahoo news, walkability isn't going to do much.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian LorenzoRoyal's avatar
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    New Urbanism does help. I live in a neighborhood where a lot of places are within 10 blocks of my apartment. Therefore, I rarely need to drive except to work, and (ironically) the gym. The goal is to keep everything the average person uses on a daily/weekly basis within a short distance for NU to work.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by LorenzoRoyal View post
    New Urbanism does help. I live in a neighborhood where a lot of places are within 10 blocks of my apartment. Therefore, I rarely need to drive except to work, and (ironically) the gym. The goal is to keep everything the average person uses on a daily/weekly basis within a short distance for NU to work.
    NU isn't designed for "the average person" because the "average person" in the US frequently has responsibilities and/or interests that take him far afield from his/her home. You said yourself you have to drive to work and to the gym. There are lots of reasons why people don't live within walking distance to their jobs, from economics to safety to amenities to schools. There are also lots of reasons why people travel outside their neighborhoods for entertainment or dining or shopping etc, including attending/patronizing unique venues like a zoo or football stadium or a specialty restaurant or shop. It's also not practical to do your weekly shopping for even a family of three or four without taking your car, even if the supermarket you patronize is within walking distance. Hauling stuff like kitty litter, disposable diapers, laundry detergent, etc 5 or 10 blocks in bags or even in a tow-behind shopping cart gets old fast, especially when it's very hot, rainy, cold, snowy, etc -- and this goes double when both members of a couple are employed.

    I think that most people in urban/suburban areas would prefer to have dedicated recreational areas -- primarily parks or greenways with walking/biking trails -- in which to exercise than to limit their choices of venues to those within walking distance. Lots of people make/take time to exercise, to take their kids to a playground, to walk their dogs, etc. because they see those activities as worthwhile. I'm not sure that they see being able to walk to a drug store or dry cleaner or convenience store as nearly as worthwhile.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    NU isn't designed for "the average person" because the "average person" in the US frequently has responsibilities and/or interests that take him far afield from his/her home.
    I think it was Kevin Lynch who said that the difference between urban design and architecture is the dimension of time. The same can be said about the difference between planning and architecture as well. Plans are put in place over time, and they should be structured to provide different things over different time intervals. Without buying into the rather dubious grand transect-of-everything vision being pushed by DPZ and pretty much violently rejected by the rest of the CNU (judging at the shouting matches that occurred between and among NU's leading luminaries at last year's CNU), much of what NU is about is what happens to unitary designs for relatively small areas and projects, over architectural or near-architectural time intervals.

    Over longer intervals of time - say 50 years or whatever is the typical timeframe of most Regional Transportation Plans, smartgrowth and other principles can be brought into big land-use moves and rezoning to better associate disparate land-use types, reorganize the structure of cities, and change the way that people live, work and play, so that "distance" between land-use functions is dramatically reduced - in turn enabling more people to transit or even walk to work and to the services they need.. if that is indeed what we WANT to happen. NU design and planning principles - as much as I and many others have reservations about their aesthetic and programmatic dimensions - may very well be part of the toolbox of available planning solutions for the shorter term projects that go into this proposed long-term restructuring of cities and ruralities. Other tools are available as well. Markets will demand that this happen anyway: at some point, at the macro level, growing cities inevitably run out of space to sprawl and thus have to re-double back onto their own existing spatial fabrics, densify and mix uses, if they want to continue to grow in a sustained fashion long time intervals. This is already happening organically in metropolitan regions as disparate as Dallas, San Jose, Denver, New York City, Toronto, Orlando, Atlanta, and even Buffalo. In fact, the only metros where it isn't happening are those that are shrinking, for whatever reason (in other words, the options of a Detroit or Youngstown will likely be more limited)..

    It's important to remember that, in the US,the building stock is recycled over what are, roughly speaking, circa 80 year lifecycles, such that, on a rolling basis, virtually the entire building stock not explicitly conserved is either replaced or reused, either in situ or elsewhere, In 40-50 years, roughly half the current building stock is replaced or re-used. This means that, with directed policy, the access and land-use patterns of the "average person" can change as dramatically as we and they want it to, over the scope of one of these regional development plans. If we want people to be able to satisfy their "responsibilities and/or interests" close to home, we can change our urban environments to enable that to happen for a plurality of the population over time. If we don't, we can develop the next generation of building stock and infrastructure the way we did the last generation over time. This has nothing to with short-term trends and fads like NU.

    Judging from the howls of protest against DPZ's transect from within the NU movement, NU is far too proscriptive to successfully accommodate the requirements of longer-term and perhaps large-scale plans.. like long-term regional development strategies.

    But it is still important to consider that radical land-use change will occur and, if the signs of the present remain unchanged, these changes will ensure that, land-use in the future will be far denser, more mixed-use, more transit-oriented, more walkable and less functionally differentiated for the vast majority of Americans. The mere fact that the US population will be 438 million and 89% urban by 2050 (and at least 700 million and as much as a billion by 2100), that no new greenfield cities that can sprawl anew and no truly revolutionary transportation technologies are on the horizon or otherwise predictable from where we are today, makes a radical restructuring of land-use almost inevitable. By 2050, we will have to replace at least 50-60 million existing housing units in our cities AND add at least 35-40 million more to accommodate new growth (or even more than that if household sizes continue to drop). If we were only to build single family homes for the new growth component alone, that's 11,000 square miles in NEW housing product, at 5 units to the gross acre! Twice the land area of Connecticut would to be paved over, and that's without building the first office, factory, park, school, shopping center or anything else.. not to mention how many new car trips that would generate. Clearly, that's impossible, and, clearly, the American cities of the future will look nothing like the cities of today - that either marginal densities from now until 2050 will have to hit roughly ten times what we've produced in the past (50 as opposed to 5 units to the acre).. either that, or we'd better be prepared to pave over the Grand Canyon and the Mojave desert too and Alaska will have to be the next sprawl frontier.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 07 Jan 2013 at 12:49 PM.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    ]NU isn't designed for "the average person" because the "average person" in the US frequently has responsibilities and/or interests that take him far afield from his/her home. You said yourself you have to drive to work and to the gym. There are lots of reasons why people don't live within walking distance to their jobs, from economics to safety to amenities to schools. There are also lots of reasons why people travel outside their neighborhoods for entertainment or dining or shopping etc, including attending/patronizing unique venues like a zoo or football stadium or a specialty restaurant or shop. It's also not practical to do your weekly shopping for even a family of three or four without taking your car, even if the supermarket you patronize is within walking distance. Hauling stuff like kitty litter, disposable diapers, laundry detergent, etc 5 or 10 blocks in bags or even in a tow-behind shopping cart gets old fast, especially when it's very hot, rainy, cold, snowy, etc -- and this goes double when both members of a couple are employed.

    I think that most people in urban/suburban areas would prefer to have dedicated recreational areas -- primarily parks or greenways with walking/biking trails -- in which to exercise than to limit their choices of venues to those within walking distance. Lots of people make/take time to exercise, to take their kids to a playground, to walk their dogs, etc. because they see those activities as worthwhile. I'm not sure that they see being able to walk to a drug store or dry cleaner or convenience store as nearly as worthwhile.
    I disagree with most of this. The reason it "doesn't work" because most Americans have been trained in autocentricity and have forgotten all the things the rest of the planet does to get by. The rest of the world - yes, even dispersed Australians and those people in Yurp - do those things you claim Americans can't or won't do. No one is claiming modern life can be done without car ownership - folks are claiming that you need a car occasionally, not for everything.

    Note: I'm not a NUer.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

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