What are Community Amenities?

Compact, diverse, mixed-use neighbourhoods allow residents to “live” within their local area. They include employment, recreation, education, retail, fresh and healthy food outlets all interwoven with cycling, walking and public transport access. 

When community facilities are steps away from residents, it encourages them to engage in physical activity, community interaction and social connection. Some cities have pursued the goal of the 15-minute city, which aims for each resident to access everything they need within 15 minutes from their house. These compact communities help meet people’s main daily to weekly household shopping and community needs.

How does it affect health?

Having employment, educational, retail and recreation options nearby make neighbourhoods walkable and promote physical activity and active transportation among residents of all ages by cutting down on the need to drive.

Over recent decades, as more of us moved from smaller communities to big cities, the need to accommodate more people has resulted in urban sprawl and the development of suburbs. For those who live in suburbs but work downtown, long bus or car rides are often the only option. Commuting to work has a long-standing association with personal stress and health.

The longer you spend commuting exposes you to greater risk of negative physical and mental health outcomes. Longer commute times are associated with fatigue, poor sleep, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and more time away from work due to illness.

In addition to the distance and time spent commuting, the mode of transportation has health implications too. Commuting by car has also been linked to poor sleep quality, lower levels of self-reported health and higher obesity rates. Drivers also experience more stress, which is exacerbated by congestions and longer commute times. The unpredictability of commute time, and the behaviour of other drivers on the road also pushes up workers’ stress levels.  Commuters who walk, cycle or use public transport have been found to have higher levels of physical activity compared to drivers.

If you have a mix of local amenities in your neighbourhood, they help attract people of all ages and create opportunities for casual and chance interactions with other community members, as well as provide places and spaces for them to gather, meet friends and family, and take part in social activities. The social benefits can be especially important for older adults because those  who live in less walkable areas with fewer amenities are more prone to stay at home, increasing the risk of social isolation.

A mix of nearby amenities also helps people feel happier in and about their communities. Walkable neighbourhoods that have a variety of amenities nearby increases neighbourhood satisfaction, sense of belonging, well-being, life satisfaction, and promotes better mental health by facilitating social interaction.

How you feel about where you live can affect how you interact with your social and physical surroundings. It is well-documented that residents’ neighbourhood satisfaction is associated with how they use their outdoor spaces. This can affect walking in the neighbourhood, physical activity, park use, social activity and community gardening.

Shifting to neighbourhoods that have amenities which make daily or weekly community needs, such as running errands and meeting friends and family, within walking or cycling distance, gets more cars off the road and reduces emissions. A shift to more compact communities – where everything you need is a short walk or cycle away – can improve air quality in cities.

All of these shifts – increased physical activity, richer social connections and cleaner air – mean a reduced chronic disease burden, including from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease.

Who is affected?

Having a mix of commercial and residential buildings in a neighbourhood can impact its affordability, which necessarily maps onto income and socioeconomic status. Mixed-use neighbourhoods can attract more housing supply, making rents and prices more affordable, however housing on higher land values can drive up the cost. Building housing supply in areas that have many amenities may mean those buildings are only affordable to residents who can already afford to live there.

As a result, lower income populations are often underserviced. In Toronto’s inner suburbs, the majority of the residents are lower income and are more likely to rely on public transportation as their main option for getting around the city. However, no inner suburb is within a 15-minute walk of a subway station or light-rail transit. Instead, these communities are reliant on multiple overcrowded buses.

Urban neighbourhoods can be disadvantaged if public transit does not provide sufficient access to destinations, like employment opportunities. Poor transit accessibility, combined with other forms of social and economic disadvantage, can result in transport poverty. Within Canada’s eight largest cities, 40% of all low-income residents are at risk of transport poverty, which is 5% of the overall population, and nearly one million people in total.

Within the neighbourhoods of the most vulnerable populations, healthy food is neither the easiest nor the cheapest option. Canadians with lower incomes often live in areas where healthy food is either not available or is too expensive. Often, these populations could afford healthier food if they had access to enhanced social supports that allowed them to budget more money for food. For example, low-income families can direct more of their money to healthy food if they have access to affordable child care, flexible employment opportunities close to home, convenient public transportation links to grocery stores, as well as kitchen storage and cooking facilities.

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