Why Cul-de-Sacs Are Bad for Your Health

Award-winning Canadian journalist Charles Montgomery's fascinating new bookHappy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design examines how lessons from psychology, neuroscience, and design can help us fix broken cities and improve our quality of life in an increasingly urban-centered world.

Charles Montgomery in Slate:

ScreenHunter_458 Dec. 13 18.31Consider Atlanta. The average working adult in Atlanta’s suburbs now drives 44 miles a day. (That’s 72 minutes a day behind the wheel, just getting to work and back.) Ninety-four percent of Atlantans commute by car. They spend more on gas than anyone else in the country. In a study of more than 8,000 households, investigators from the Georgia Institute of Technology led by Lawrence Frank discovered that people’s environments were shaping their travel behavior and their bodies. They could actually predict how fat people were by where they lived in the city.

Frank found that a white male living in Midtown, a lively district near Atlanta’s downtown, was likely to weigh 10 pounds less than his identical twin living out in a place like, say, Mableton, in the cul-de-sac archipelago that surrounds Atlanta, simply because the Midtowner would be twice as likely to get enough exercise every day.

Here’s how their neighborhoods engineer their travel behavior:

Midtown was laid out long before the dispersalists got their hands on the city. It exhibits the convenient geometry of the streetcar neighborhood even though its streetcars disappeared in 1949. Housing, offices, and retail space are all sprinkled relatively close together on a latticelike street grid. A quart of milk or a bar or a downtown-bound bus are never more than a few blocks away. It is easy for people to walk to shops, services, or MARTA, the city’s limited rapid transit system, so that’s what they do.

More here.