Community design, street networks, and public health
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Marshall, Wesley E.
Piatkowski, Daniel P.
Garrick, Norman W.
Department of Urban Studies and Planning
What is the influence of street network design on public health? While the literature linking the built environment to health outcomes is vast, it glosses over the role that specific street network characteristics play. The three fundamental elements of street networks are: street network density, connectivity, and configuration. Without sufficient attention being paid to these individual elements of street network design, building a community for health remains a guessing game. Our previous study found more compact and connected street networks highly correlated with increased walking, biking, and transit usage; while these trends suggest a health benefit, this study seeks to strengthen that connection. Using a multilevel, hierarchical statistical model, this research seeks to fill this gap in the literature through a more robust accounting of street network design. Specifically, we ask the following: what is the influence of the three fundamental measures of street networks on obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and asthma? We answer this question by examining 24 California cities exhibiting a range a street network typologies using health data from the California Health Interview Survey. We control for the food environment, land uses, commuting time, socioeconomic status, and street design. The results suggest that more compact and connected street networks with fewer lanes on the major roads are correlated with reduced rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease among residents. Given the cross-sectional nature of our study, proving causation is not feasible but should be examined in future research. Nevertheless, the outcome is a novel assessment of streets networks and public health that has not yet been seen but will be of benefit to planners and policy-makers.