The Challenge: The design and maintenance of neighborhoods, streets, and parks, and people's perceptions of those places based on qualities such as aesthetic appeal and perceived safety, can affect physical activity in youth and adults.
Make an impact: If communities want to design places where people are active, they need to consider evidence that links physical activity to environments' actual characteristics, perceived characteristics, and aesthetic appeal.
What the findings are about: This research review examines the evidence on the relationship of rates of physical activity to the perceived aesthetics, safety and comfort of public places, such as streets and parks. It also provides research that improving appearances can make a place more appealing - both in general, and specifically as a place for physical activity for adults and youth.
Key Findings and Recommendations:
Parents’ perception of neighborhood safety affects their children’s activity levels.
People view aesthetics, defined as the visual appeal or pleasantness of an environment, as important, and aesthetics may affect how far and where children walk.
People, regardless of their socio-cultural characteristics, generally have similar perceptions of the aesthetics of an environment. Moreover, these perceptions are not just “in the eye of the beholder,” but rather are linked to characteristics of the environment.
Aesthetics and perceived safety from either crime or traffic seem to be most important for attracting people to places.
Vegetation improves visual appeal.
People prefer orderly, neat, and well-kept environments to disorderly, messy, poorly maintained environments or those having physical incivilities (such as graffiti, litter or boarded up buildings).
People prefer open, unobstructed views.
Physical elements, including sitting space, sculptures, food, deciduous trees, water elements, and access to the street, can attract people.
Perceived safety from crime is associated with greater order and upkeep, unobstructed views, lighting, and the presence of others who might help.
Perceived safety from traffic is associated with the presence of sidewalks, footpaths, pedestrian infrastructure, street connectivity, controlled intersections, clearly marked street crossings, and reduced traffic speed and volume.
Playgrounds and parks are more attractive for physical activity when they provide amenities such as play equipment or seating.
Nasar, JL. Creating Places That Promote Physical Activity: Perceiving is Believing. San Diego, CA: Active Living Research; 2015. Available at www.activelivingresearch.org.