©EDSA | Insights | Strides Towards Wellness | Women Working Out in Park

With the ability to enhance mood, boost energy and reduce health risks, physical activity is one of the most important things one can do for their well-being. But despite its long list of advantages, the World Health Organization reports that 20 percent of adults and 80 percent of adolescents are not meeting recommended exercise levels. In response, designers are helping embed healthy living alternatives into people’s daily lives through planning decisions that spark behavioral change and encourage people to live their happiest, healthiest lives through movement.

Such choices are infiltrating the development sphere with strategies like the ‘15 Minute City’ taking center stage. The concept places all necessary community amenities within a short walking, biking or public transportation distance, thereby enhancing convenience and accessibility for residents while reducing carbon emissions. So, while Paris, Melbourne, Chengdu and other global communities continue to adopt their own versions of this sustainable-economic-social model, there are many ways to reconfigure a city’s fabric to get people up and moving while boosting ‘genius loci’, the unique character of a place.

©EDSA | Insights | Strides Towards Wellness | Man Biking in Closed Street

Take ‘road diets’ for instance, where car lanes are realigned for improved biking, walking, outdoor dining and events. In example, high-traffic intersections, like that of Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, North Carolina and Greenville Avenue in Dallas, Texas, that have completed similar efforts report an increase in public safety, crime reduction, traffic calming and welcoming community aesthetic. These human-scaled streets not only provide a more vibrant urban experience but encourage residents to explore their city by foot. Additionally, these regional investments have benefitted local governments and developers alike, with both parties reporting higher volumes of residential occupancy and increases in public-private investment dollars.

Everyone, at some point, is a pedestrian. Claiming the streets as part of the public realm rather than functional links for cars amplifies a neighborhood’s ability to become a more resilient, safer and healthier place. Density of functions, active frontages and improved green corridors and connections leads to opportunities for much needed space to socialize and enjoy. Widening biking paths along traffic lanes and clear delineation of pedestrian crosswalks further ensure safety. Not to mention a city’s ability to activate passive spaces like alleyways through lighting, artwork and more to help define pedestrian passthroughs that make commutes by bike or foot more enjoyable.

©EDSA | Insights | Strides Towards Wellness | NYC Car Free Earth Day

Though some cities may not have the resources for complete roadway conversions, promoting walkability and a ‘fit’ lifestyle can also be achieved through less permanent measures. For instance, New York City continues to celebrate ‘Car Free Earth Day’, which features seven different open street locations where people can walk and ride bikes freely with no vehicular traffic interruptions. Similarly, smaller urban areas with high population densities, like that of downtown West Chester, Pennsylvania, continue to temporarily close their main streets to host flea markets, restaurant weeks and other programmed events. And let us not forget the value of neighborhood pocket parks and green spaces where people can walk their dogs, play games and exercise in an outdoor environment that is healthy and welcoming.

There is no question that people-focused planning is not only at the center of urban revitalization and renewal, but the future of real estate development in general. And, while wellness-conscious design extends beyond walkability and exercise, it’s a great place for planners, city governments and developers to start as we advocate for people to get outdoors and take better control of their health.