Urban Planning Design and Behaviour

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The Complex Role of Urban Design and Theoretical Models of Physical Activity Kevin J. Krizek There is considerable enthusiasm among individuals in research, advocacy, and policy circles for the idea that “good” urban design will positively contribute to levels of physical activity. The enthusiasm demonstrated by such perspectives is refreshing; most agree it is critically important to support planning efforts that make physical activity and “active travel” easy, available to diverse and increased populations, and more attractive. At the same time, however, it is important to be aware of the false expectations of such planning initiatives, particularly the potential of urban design, by i self, t to strongly influence levels of physical activity. The caution presented below warns us that the magnitude of the independent effect of urban design on physical activity may be less significant once other issues are accounted for. Ecological Models of Behavior The primary reason for this caution is guided by theories of behavior from public health but also informed by recent urban planning research about travel patterns. Colleagues from the field of public health provide us with highly disciplined models to guide our understanding of human behavior. A set of theories heavily relied on are referred to a social s ecological models. An underlying theme of ecological models is that there are a variety of contexts —individual, interpersonal, organizational and community—that operate at multiple levels to influence action; behavior does not occur within a vacuum. Environmental contexts (i.e., urban design characteristics such as street design, mixing of land uses, public spaces, sidewalks, bike lanes) are particularly difficult to pin down because they invoke behavioral decision making on a variety levels. This draws attention to questioning how and in what manner our beloved urban designs relate to the multiplicities of human behavior. Much of the physical activity excitement...
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