Can walking habits be encouraged through regeneration?

Tuesday 3 July 2018

In new research, we examine whether area-based regeneration, or relocation that results from regeneration, can encourage more regular walking by residents through improvements to their local environment. 

There is increasing recognition that activities such as walking and cycling can help address many of the health issues associated with inactivity. It is thought that interventions on the social and physical environments may impact upon walking habits by making places safer, more attractive and more ‘walkable’. However, there is very little longitudinal evidence for the effects of area-wide programmes such as regeneration upon activity levels among the resident population.

We used GoWell survey data from 2011 and 2015, linked with objective data on the local environment (street connectivity and dwelling density) around each survey respondent at both time points, to investigate whether any changes in the frequency of walking by participants over time was linked to changes in the surrounding environment. The analysis was done both for people who remained in the same house as regeneration proceeded and for people who moved home. 

We found that the walkability of the local environment improved over time for three-out-of-five survey participants, with the larger changes in walkability occurring for those who moved home. However, while moving home was associated with an increased frequency of walking, changes in the walkability of the environment were not. The strongest influence on subsequent walking behaviour was walking frequency at the first time point.

We conclude that neighbourhood environment changes through regeneration have not been substantial enough to lead to increases in walking frequency. While area renewal plans are likely to include new street layouts and environmental improvements, they less often deliver on new amenities, another important element in ‘walkability’. 

For those who remain in their homes, there is a case for combining physical and social regeneration in order to generate ‘behavioural spill-over’ effects whereby increases in residents’ sense of community belonging is associated with increased physical activity such as walking. For those who move home, relocation could be combined with public health support to help people transition from being sedentary to regular walking.

The full article is freely available online:

Can walking habits be encouraged through area-based regeneration and relocation? A longitudinal study of deprived communities in Glasgow, UK.
Curl A, Kearns A, MacDonald L, Mason P, Ellaway A.
Journal of Transport and Health 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.jth.2018.06.004.