Thursday, May 10, 2012

America's Built Environment

Maybe it needs a rethink:
We've written about this before. But researchers in Texas have yet another study to add to the overwhelming body of evidence linking long daily car trips to indicators of poor health.

The study, to be published in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, followed 4,297 commuters throughout Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, Texas. Not only did those with long commutes score worse on objective measures of health, they "reported doing less physical activity overall," Berg explains.

"And even when the researchers adjusted for each person's physical activity habits and cardiorespiratory fitness, both waistlines and body mass index increased right along with commute distance. Higher blood pressure was observed in commuters driving 10 miles or more to work. Those driving more than 15 miles each way were less likely to meet recommendations for 'moderate to vigorous' physical activity and were more likely to be obese."

Berg points out that the path of scientific inquiry doesn't end there. "The authors note that future studies would be needed to fully understand whether and how sedentary time during commuting affects health. For example, how is sitting in a car for an hour on your way to work different from sitting in your chair for an hour when you're at work? Or sitting on your couch? Or, instead of sitting in a driver's seat, sitting in a bus seat?"
No, Seriously: The Long Haul to Work is Not Easy On Your Body (Planetizen)
Americans, especially generations X and Y, want shorter commutes, walkability and a car-free existence. Which means that around 40 million large-lot exurban McMansions, built primarily during the housing boom, might never find occupants.

Only 43 percent of Americans prefer big suburban homes, says Chris Nelson, head of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah. That mean demand for “large-lot” homes is currently 40 million short of the available stock — and not only that, but the U.S. is short 10 million attached homes and 30 million small homes, which are what people really want.

“If we are optimistic that the world is not coming to an end and we’re going to get out of this economic trough, it’s a good time to consider, when production does ramp up, how we will be building as a country,” [says Joe Molinaro head of the National Association of Realtors' smart growth program.]
America has 40 million McMansions that no one wants (Grist)

And see:
Amidst the paradoxical increase in ridership demand, Yonah Freemark explores the plague of transit cuts reinforcing regional inequalities across the country.

Unfortunately, the draconian 35% service cuts announced by Pittsburgh's regional transit authority last week are the rule, rather than the exception, as cities across the country increase fares and cut routes, as they struggle with declining subsidies essential to maintaining operations.

"The counterintuitive result is that cities that are doing well economically are able to pay for improved transit services whereas those with many economic problems — the ones where transit is often needed most — are left to cut operations dramatically. Thus regional inequities are reinforced."
Last Stop: the Shredding of America's Transit Networks (Planetizen)

The declining economy makes it less likely that we'll be able to make the investments needed to run a successful economy in the wake of permanantly high energy prices. Thus, a downward spiral ensues.

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