Edmonton, Alberta – Edmonton residents may know it’s healthier to walk, but building more “walkable” neighbourhoods may not be enough to get people out of cars, according to a new study by the University of Alberta.
Researcher Marianne Clark, of the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, found that 77 per cent of people in the city make all their trips by cars, which may not change even if neighbourhoods are built to be more conducive to walking. Clark interviewed stakeholders in neighbourhood development, including city councilors, land developers, food retailers, and public health and municipal employees, asking them to define a healthy neighbourhood and about “food security,” the importance of the proximity of grocery stores with affordable, healthy food choices.
“There were varying views among stakeholders as to whether walkable neighbourhoods are really going to make that much of a difference in making people active,” Clark said. “While municipal employees and public health officials believed deeply in the value of these neighbourhoods, developers generally thought the extent of their responsibility was limited to market and consumer demands. They were also skeptical of the notion of ‘if you build it, they will walk.’ According to developers, it’s up to the individual whether they choose to walk or not, regardless of the design of the neighbourhood, but they also acknowledged that our social norms and customs are very entrenched in car culture.”
Car dependency or reliance was mentioned by all stakeholders as pervasive in Edmonton, noting the cold climate and plenty of space to keep pushing the city’s boundaries. Private sector stakeholders also said that people generally see success as having a single-family home, which means building in the suburbs to create affordable housing.
“There are lingering tensions about what the end results of these neighbourhoods might actually be, where the responsibilities lie in terms of public and private sectors,” Clark said. “That question is more complicated than what we’ve thought it was before. When we look at this issue, though, we need to look at the broader societal issues. We may be naive to think that if we build these great neighbourhoods, that everything’s going to change and everyone’s going to start walking more and be more healthy.”