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greenindicatorImpact of Urban Form on Health



SustainableTransWalkingphotoWhat is this indicator and why measure it?

Region of Waterloo Public Health works to increase opportunities for healthy living to contribute to chronic disease prevention. Research is consistently showing connections between neighborhood design and health. To measure and monitor the impact of the built environment on the health of our residents, Public Health partnered with academic researchers across Canada in the NEWPATH (Nutrition, Environment in Waterloo Region, Physical Activity, Transportation, and Health) study.

NEWPATH included three key elements in its research.
• A dataset which measured the quality of the built environment and walkability within the Region.
• An extensive survey including a travel diary, assessment of neighbourhood preferences, dietary choices, and health outcomes.
• An assessment of the relative quality of the food environment.

This indicator will present some of the project results.


Walking is the one of the most simple and natural ways to get active. Neighbourhoods where more people walk tend to be more vibrant, friendly and have lower crimes rates. Walking also provides excellent health, economic and environmental benefits.

The NEWPATH study used land use data to assess and map the walkability of our Region's three cities: Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. Walkability is a measure of how friendly an area is to walking. Ratings were calculated based on the following features:
• Intersection density,
• Residential density,
• Rate of mixed land use, and
• Retail design.

To find your walkability rating using your postal code or address, visit the Region of Waterloo's interactive Walkability Map.

Land Community Walkability Map

Survey of residents

4902 individuals from 2228 households participated in the research project. Findings include the following:

Walking rates
People in high walkable neighbourhoods are more likely to walk than

  • Medium walkable communities by 50%, and
  • Low walkable neighbourhoods by 180%.

Travel modes
Walkability significantly impacted choices across all travel modes. The table below shows the travel mode used by residents in different neighbourhoods during weekday afternoon peak travel period.

High walkable neighbourhood

Medium walkable neighbourhood

Low walkable neighbourhood

Personal vehicle*
















*includes both drivers and passengers.

Travel preferences

Although overall percentage of people cycling or taking transit is low, percentage of respondents prefer

    • Walking over driving by 58%,
    • Cycling over driving by 28%, and
    • Taking transit over driving by 17%.

Neighbourhood preferences
Residents strongly prefer to live in neighbourhoods that

    • Have more space for walking and cycling,
    • Are close to a variety of shops and services,
    • Can reach at least some of their destinations easily by cycling or walking, and
    • Have a shorter commute to work.

Health outcomes
People living in high walkable neighbourhoods have statistically significant lower Body Mass Index (BMI – a measurement of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women) and smaller waist circumference than those in medium or low walkable neighbourhoods.

Food environment

A follow-up report on how the quality of the food environment impacts dietary choices will be completed in the near future.


Results from the NEWPATH study indicates the way communities are designed plays an important role in determining travel behaviour, physical activity, and walking rates.

For more details on Regional policies that affect urban form and health, visit the following:
The Regional Growth Management Strategy
Community Building Strategy
Regional Official Plan
Regional Transportation Master Plan
Active Transportation Master Plan




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greenindicator Strong progress achieved
yellowindicator Moderate progress achieved
redindicator Progress needed
blueindicator Information only
greyindicator Indirectly related