What makes a neighbourhood walkable, bikeable, livable, vibrant and healthy?
Canadian homebuyers and land developers shared their perspectives on health supportive neighbourhood design.

For the attention of: Homebuyers, Urban planning professionals, Real estate professionals.

The problem: The importance of creating healthy built environments is recognized by public health authorities and the urban planning professions. There are different perspectives regarding neighbourhood qualities (walkability, bikeability, livability, vibrancy and healthy), which to date are not universally defined. The perspectives of recent homebuyers and land developers are often missing from the neighbourhood quality narrative. Homebuyer and land developer perspectives on neighbourhood qualities may not align with the perspectives presented in the academic literature.

What we did and why: We undertook a qualitative study to explore recent homebuyers’ and residential land developers’ perceptions of walkability, healthy, bikeability, vibrancy, and livability in relation to neighbourhood design. The study was undertaken in Alberta (Canada) and included one-on-one semi-structured interviews with 12 homebuyers and 12 land developers. The interviews included questions related to the neighbourhood terms of interest to gain in-depth insight into the perceptions of the built and social environment features associated with neighbourhood design.

What our study adds: The perspectives shared by land developers and homebuyers provided insight into their perceptions of walkability, healthy, bikeability, vibrancy, and livability in relation to neighbourhood design. Land developers described how these concepts related to their field of work, while homebuyers described these concepts and their influence on their recent home purchases. Participants described:

  • walkability as: ease of movement, contextual differences, and connections;
  • healthy as: opportunities for activity, and diversity;
  • bikeability as: supportive infrastructure, and differing preferences;
  • vibrancy as: matches peoples’ values, and supportive built features; and
  • livability as: all encompassing, and safe and friendly.

Walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods are not necessarily livable or vibrant, but all these qualities contribute to a healthy neighbourhood.

Implications for city policy and practice: Homebuyers and land developers have similar perspectives on walkability, bikeability, livability, vibrancy and health although the built and social features described were not exclusive to any one-neighbourhood label. Walkability and bikeability appear necessary for vibrancy, vibrancy is required for livability, and livability is an essential quality for a health supportive neighbourhood. Our findings suggest that neighbourhoods should be described as “health supportive” rather than “healthy” due to the many perceptions of “health” among individuals.

For further information:

Built Environment and Healthy Living Lab: A research lab committed to  improving the health and wellbeing of populations through neighbourhood built design.

Full research article: Cul-de-sacs make you fat: homebuyer and land developer perceptions of neighbourhood walkability, bikeability, livability, vibrancy, and health by Gavin R. McCormack, Autumn Nesdoly, Dalia Ghoneim & Tara-Leigh McHugh.