We compared cross-city differences in the walking environment in Madrid and Philadelphia as a case study

For the attention of: City council public health and transport officers

The problem: Urban health studies usually focus on the differences between neighbourhoods in the same city;

however, that approach lacks any assessment of the overarching forces affecting the city as a whole.

What we did: We compared differences in the walking environment between Madrid and Philadelphia. We used an audit tool called M-SPACES that measures, for each street segment;

  1. function (physical attributes of the street, such as the type and quality of the walking surface),
  2. safety (both safety for crime and traffic safety),
  3. aesthetics (visible features that make streets and neighborhoods pleasant to walk), and
  4. destinations (community and commercial facilities in neighborhoods, including local parks, public transportation, services, and shop).

What our study adds: We found that Philadelphia’s streets had higher scores for function (physical attributes that supported walking) and safety, while Madrid streets had greater a greater proportion of streets having at least one walking destinations. These results are key to understand which elements of the built environment could be key to uncover mass influences that operate at the city level.

Implications for city policy and practice: In order to understand which urban characteristics impact on physical activity and health, we need to understand what characterize our cities as a whole. In our study, Madrid is characterized by a higher proportion of daily walking destinations, while the streets of Philadelphia have better physical infrastructure for walking in the street.

Future studies should include attention to the potential impact of built environment characteristics at the city level.

Full research article: Walking the cities: A comparative case study for street audits in Madrid and Philadelphia using multiple sampling methods

Authors: Pedro Gullón (@pgullon), Usama Bilal (@usama_bilal), Patricia Sánchez, Julia Díez (@JuliaDiez91), Gina S. Lovasi, and Manuel Franco (@mfranco_uah)

Editor: Marcus Grant