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 amenities 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 do they affect health?
Having employment, educational, retail, grocery stores and cultural options nearby make neighbourhoods walkable and promote physical activity and active transportation among residents of all ages by reducing 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.
A mix of amenities in your neighbourhood helps promote social life by attracting people of all ages and creating opportunities for casual and chance interactions with other community members, as well as providing 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.
Walkable neighbourhoods that have a variety of amenities nearby also increases neighbourhood satisfaction, sense of belonging, well-being, life satisfaction, and promotes better mental health by facilitating social interaction.
Shifting to neighbourhoods that enable daily or weekly community needs, such as running errands and meeting friends and family, to be completed within walking or cycling distance, gets more cars off the road and reduces emissions, and 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?
A significant proportion of Canadians do not live in neighbourhoods that have features that make active transportation a convenient option. In 2011, 62% of Canadians said there were stores within walking distance of their home; 72% had a transit stop within a 15-minute walk of their home; 70% said they lived in an attractive neighbourhood. That leaves a significant number of Canadians without neighbourhood features that enable and encourage active transportation, leaving them to rely on cars to get around.
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.
Further, it is the most vulnerable members of society who have the most to gain from neighbourhoods that support active transportation. People who are not drivers, such as people with lower incomes, people with disabilities, and some older adults can more easily access employment, education, health care, and community facilities through active transportation networks, which increase their mobility. These groups are also most likely to benefit the most from access to outdoor recreation opportunities yet tend not to live close to parks. Living within walking distance from a park makes people more likely to use it and gain the health benefits of physical activity, access to nature, outdoor recreation, and a space that creates opportunities for social connection.
By contrast, vulnerable populations often face more negative impacts of not being able to engage in active transportation. For example, recent immigrants who have a low income and live in low-walkability neighbourhoods experience three times higher diabetes incidence compared to individuals living in high-income, high walkability areas. Unfortunately, in Canada’s largest cities, such as Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, residents with lower socioeconomic status tend to live in the least walkable neighbourhoods.