Frank, Lawrence D., Peter O Engeike and Thomas L. Schmid: Health and Community Design: the Impact of the Built Environment on Physical Activity.
Article Type: Book Review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Green, Chris
Pub Date: 12/22/2004
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2004 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Winter, 2004 Source Volume: 13 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Health and Community Design: the Impact of the Built Environment on Physical Activity (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Frank, Lawrence D.; Engeike, Peter O.; Schmid, Thomas L.
Accession Number: 129248109
Full Text: Frank, Lawrence D., Peter O Engeike and Thomas L. Schmid Health And Community Design: The Impact Of The Built Environment On Physical Activity Island Press, 2003 253 pages ISBN 1-55963-917-2

Canadians and Americans living in urban centers are becoming increasingly overweight and this is leading to a mushrooming of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. One of the major reasons why people are becoming overweight is lack of physical activity. Health and Community Design describes in detail how the modern urban environment systematically discourages people from undertaking physical activity. It also describes how the urban environment got that way. This is an extremely important book because it helps move us out of the knowledge-attitude-behavior trap of modern public health practice which blames individuals for their lack of physical activity.

The book starts by outlining how the modern urban environment in North America actively discourages physical activity. It then goes on to describe how land-use patterns, transportation systems and overall urban design policies have conspired over the past century to transform cities from places where people expended significant physical energy to accomplish their everyday activities to the current situation where expenditure of physical energy is not only no longer required, but actively discouraged. The book makes the very interesting point that many of the urban design policies implemented over the past century were put in place to improve the health and well-being of the population. These included segregating residential areas from industrial and commercial areas of the city. Ironically it is these same policies of de-centralization which are now resulting in an urban environment which promotes a sedentary lifestyle.

In Chapter 5 of the book, transportation patterns in the U.S. are compared to those in the Netherlands and Germany. Very strikingly 44-50% of everyday trips taken in Germany and the Netherlands are by walking or bicycle while in the U.S. the comparable statistic is only 6.2%. The authors use these statistics to make the point that the North American approach to urban design which promotes the use of the automobile over other types of transportation is not necessarily a characteristic of modern wealthy countries; rather the car oriented design approach prevalent in North America is the result of a value base where discussion of the benefits of walking, bicycling and public transportation are almost completely off the public's agenda.

The book concludes that urban dwellers will only become more physically active if the urban environment in which they live encourages physical activity as part of everyday life. The authors suggest that for most people voluntary physical activity such as work-outs in private gyms are not sustainable over the long-run. What is required, the authors argue, is policy integration between a number of spheres including public health, land development and transportation in order to transform the urban environment so that it is more physical activity friendly.

Although I found the book to be very revealing and thought provoking, I felt it did not effectively address the critical issue of how the automobile industry in North America has been able to hi-jack the urban design agenda in North America, especially since the 1950s. Any proposed solutions to our urban design problems would have to address the powerful lobby of the automobile industry head on. This is an area that the authors do not address in their proposed solutions.

Chris Green

PhD Candidate, Interdisciplinary Studies

University of Manitoba
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.