The Science Is In: The healthiest neighborhoods are both walkable and green

Kaid-BenfieldMost of us, most of the time, don’t make much connection between place – the neighborhoods where we live, work, and play – and our health. Not unless we’re thinking of such obvious local health concerns as an outbreak of infectious disease in the community, serious levels of pollution or toxicity nearby, or perhaps about local health care services and facilities. Absent those kinds of circumstances, we tend to take our neighborhoods for granted when it comes to health. But we shouldn’t, because there is a rapidly growing body of evidence demonstrating that the shape and character of our communities matters a great deal to our health.

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Suburban Remix: A New Generation of Walkable Development

Kaid-BenfieldIn 2001, a new book came out with my name (and those of two colleagues) on the cover.  It was a book of case studies of smart-growth alternatives to suburban sprawl, divided into three categories:  urban development, suburban development, and conservation initiatives.  I mention the book here not (well, not just) because I’m an incorrigible self-promoter but because it had three photos on its cover, one of which was of a then-new, multi-building and mixed-use development called Bethesda Row, located in suburban Maryland just outside of Washington, DC.

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Ten key ingredients of a green and healthy community

Kaid-BenfieldIf someone asks what a green community, or a healthy one, means to you, what comes to mind? I’m willing to bet that for most people it is the visible and tangible aspects: a lovely city park, perhaps, or mature street trees, or bicycle lanes on a city street. If you’re a bit more wonky, you might also think of access to healthy food, or to public transportation. If you work on these matters for a living, you might think of more technical matters such as where we get our energy, what happens to our waste, and whether neighborhood streets are designed in a pattern that facilitates walking to accomplish everyday errands. Continue Reading

Why City Issues are Also Environmental Issues

Kaid-BenfieldCities need nature, as I’ve written in an earlier essay. But what is not so well understood is that nature also needs cities. There is simply no way we can protect and maintain a beautiful, thriving, natural and rural landscape outside of cities if we continue to spread highways and suburban sprawl across the countryside.  Healthy, robust, beautiful cities where people want to live are critical to the protection of nature.

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Is placemaking a “new environmentalism”?

Kaid-BenfieldCan placemaking – in short, the building or strengthening of physical community fabric to create great human habitat – be a “new environmentalism”?  The question is posed by a provocative short essay, which I first discovered in 2011. Written by Ethan Kent of the Project for Public Spaces, the article continues to make the rounds. The essay influenced my own writing (“The importance of place to sustainability”), and I’m returning to it here because the issues Ethan has raised continue to be important.

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Nature’s Healing Ways

The other day while walking my dog, I was trying to count the ways nature makes us healthier, as a means of distracting myself from the fact that the temperature was -40, with wind chill. That’s the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit converge. However, since this is my 9th winter in my beloved Winnipeg – one of the three coldest big cities on earth – I was dressed for the occasion and was keeping to the sidewalks in the active core. Here tight setbacks and street trees provide shelter from the wind, neighbourhood shops and cafés offer places to stop in and warm up, and short blocks provide plenty of places to turn around when the time is right.
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What Makes a Good Main Street Work?

Shortly before this essay’s original posting, I participated in a terrific conference called From Main Street to Eco-Districts: Greening Our Communities, hosted by a chapter of the American Institute for Architects in Corning, New York. Held a block off of Corning’s own, magnificent “Main Street” (actually named Market Street), and including many of the people who have helped make that street so successful, the conference started me thinking about the whole idea of Main Streets and what makes the best of them such delights to experience.

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Four Characteristics of Active, Healthy Neighborhoods

Kaid-BenfieldScientists are learning more and more about how where we live affects the amount of exercise we get, and thus how fit and healthy we are likely to be. In general, city dwellers are particularly well placed to get regular exercise if they can take care of some or all of their daily errands without getting into a car: walking is good for us, and so is taking public transportation, because almost every transit trip begins and ends with a walking trip.

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