BOX 6-3

Discovering Public Spaces as Neighborhood Assets in Seattle

Feet First, a Seattle-area nonprofit organization, is using its Active Living by Design grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help neighborhood residents take a closer look at their streets. As part of their project’s activities, Feet First staff organize neighborhoods through monthly walking audits. On these walks, the staff train groups of up to 40 neighbors to see their streets as an untapped resource with potential for physical activity. At the end of the one-mile, two-hour inspections, participants receive notes with photos and maps documenting assets, possible improvements, and needed policy changes. The organization assists citizens in working with city agencies and departments to address the neighborhood concerns.

Evaluation has been built into the design and implementation of the Feet First program and is now in progress. Results will be used to assess next steps and inform the planning of future programs.

Correlational studies. Convenient access to recreational facilities emerges as a consistent correlate of physical activity, although most research has been conducted with adults (Sallis et al., 1998; Humpel et al., 2002). A 2002 review by Humpel and colleagues summarized the results of 16 cross-sectional studies, published between 1990 and 2001, on the link between physical activity and the physical environment. Access to facilities such as bicycle paths or parks showed significant positive associations with physical activity, while measures of a lack of facilities (or inadequate facilities) showed significant negative associations. Awareness of and satisfaction with facilities also showed significant associations with physical activity, as did measures of local aesthetics, such as attractive neighborhoods or enjoyable scenery.

Although there are fewer studies on the relationships between young people’s access to recreational facilities and their levels of physical activity, they are nevertheless consistent with the findings for adults. A comprehensive review by Sallis and colleagues (2000a) on the correlates of physical activity among children found a significant positive association with access to recreational facilities and programs, and two out of three studies involving adolescents found a significant positive association as well. However, a study of the neighborhoods of low-income preschoolers in Cincinnati, Ohio, found that overweight was not associated with proximity to playgrounds (Burdette and Whitaker, 2004). These results suggest that access to recreational facilities may be more important for youth than for young children or that reported physical activity may not always translate into differences in weight.

Available evidence (limited to the behavior of all residents or of adults

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