Where you live helps to determine many health-related aspects of your life, such as your level of physical activity, the quality of the air you breathe, the cleanliness of the water you drink and your overall sense of well-being.
The built environment, which is everything that has been built, created or modified by people, is often overlooked as having an impact on health. In fact, the way we design our communities and make decisions about land use can be both good and bad for our health.
For example, communities that are designed without sidewalks or bike lanes discourage people from walking or cycling, which can reduce physical activity levels and increase obesity rates. Residential areas located far away from shops, services and schools means that people have to drive to do their daily business. More driving means more vehicles on the road, which results in increased vehicle emissions that contribute to air pollution and the potential for increased injuries and fatalities due to motor vehicle crashes. The more time spent driving means less time to be involved in family, recreation or community activities.
Did you know…
- In Canada, more than half of car trips are less than five kilometres, an ideal distance to cover by walking, cycling, in-line skating or other ways of active transportation.
- Rural and urban trails add to the local economy by providing jobs, increasing access to stores, businesses and services, and supporting tourism.
- From 2005-2009, there were 131 smog days in Ontario, 82 smog days in southern Simcoe Muskoka and 70 smog days in northern Simcoe Muskoka. Smog days are linked to an increase in visits to physicians and emergency rooms and to hospital admissions.
- New road construction increases the amount of paved surface, which produces run-off that can negatively affect groundwater quality.
- People are more likely to meet their nutritional needs when they have easy access to grocery stores that sell healthy, safe and affordable food rather than convenience stores that sell more expensive processed and packaged food.
- Unplanned growth can result in the loss of vital agricultural land.
Community design can also affect your overall feelings of well-being and how comfortable and socially connected you are to your neighbourhood. Neighbourhoods that include playgrounds, that have places for people to meet and that are clean and safe, generally make people feel good about living there. Knowing your neighbours and being involved in community activities can increase your sense of well-being and happiness.
Did you know…
- Development that spreads over a large area can lead to a weakening sense of community, which can impact on a person’s mental health and well-being.
- Driving long distances (or commuting) to work increases stress, can lead to aggressive driving and contributes to air pollution.
- A lack of sidewalks and paved shoulders results in fewer people walking or cycling, which increases congestion on our roads and reduces the opportunity for people to interact with one another.