Presentation at the 2007 Active Living Research Annual Conference
There is growing evidence that older adults who live in attractive, well-connected communities with access to amenities are more likely to walk than are older adults in less walkable communities. However, there is little evidence about how building and campus design factors at site and building scale may be related to where older adults choose to walk. Available evidence suggests that local characteristics (such as path condition and maintenance), relational characteristics (such as views to other spaces from path) and global characteristics (that determine how easy it is to reach other spaces from any space) of paths are associated with where people choose to walk. Further, it is plausible that people choose to walk in different types of environments depending on whether they are walking to get to a destination or if they are walking for pleasure or recreation. However, no studies have examined this relationship in the context of older adults.
The purpose of this study was to understand where older adults in retirement campuses chose to walk for recreation or to get to a destination and the environmental factors that were associated with their decision to choose certain types of paths over others. Based on the findings of this study, the paper outlines key implications for the design of retirement communities that support walking among elderly residents.
Case studies were conducted at three campus type continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) near Atlanta, Georgia. Information about path use for walking was obtained through resident questionnaires that asked questions about the routes residents took while getting to a destination or while walking for recreation/exercise. Information regarding local and relational path characteristics was obtained using a checklist of items designed to assess the characteristics of individual indoor and outdoor path segments. The form used in this study was developed based on existing items used in either the Systematic Pedestrian and Cycling Environmental Scan (SPACES) instrument or the Irvine-Minnesota Inventory. Campus site and building plans were analyzed using Space Syntax methodology to obtain key characteristics of the path network that may be related to walking. Chi square analysis was used as a test for significance of relationships. Further, popular routes in the three communities were analyzed in terms of the characteristics of the path segments comprising them.
The response rates for the resident questionnaires at the three communities was 11%, 12% and 28%. The staff in the communities confirmed that the numbers were representative of residents who were active walkers. Local, relational and global path characteristics were significantly related to path choice for walking in the three communities.
Path segments chosen for walking to destinations largely depended on the location of the individual’s residence and the relative location of the destinations. A finding consistent across the three campuses was that more path segments that were part of many routes on campus were used for walking to destinations as compared to path segments that were part of none or few routes.
Local path characteristics that were related to path segments being used for recreational walking at all three campuses included path type (a higher percentage of outdoor path segments were used as compared to indoor path segments), location of indoor path segments (a higher percentage of segments between residents apartments were used as compared to other indoor path segments), length (a higher percentage of long path segments were used as compared to short path segments) and the presence of steps (a higher percentage of path segments without steps were used). In all three communities more path segments that lay on many routes on campus were used for recreational walking as compared to path segments that lay on few routes. Indoor and outdoor routes were popular on all three campuses and most routes chosen by residents were looped in structure.
This study suggests that designing campuses to support walking involves not only a careful consideration of individual local path characteristics but also an understanding how path segments and routes fit within the larger network of path segments on campus.
Note: This study was funded by an Active Living Research Dissertation Grant.