Walkable neighbourhoods make people happier, says new research from Dublin

The concept that walkable neighbourhoods make people happier applies to Dublin according to a study published today by researchers from three Irish universities.

The researchers, from the University of Galway; TU Dublin; and Ulster University, said that they hopped that their work of additional empirical evidence would encourage professions and those in power open dialogue about the barriers and enablers for walkable neighbourhoods that support social connections, better health, and improved quality of daily life.

The researchers said: “In this study, we found that living in a walkable neighbourhood had direct and indirect effects on the happiness of people living in and around Dublin. Perceived walkability was directly linked to the happiness of people aged 36–45 and, to a lesser extent, those aged 18–35 years of age.”

They said: “For older adults, neighbourhood walkability was important for happiness and was related to other aspects of older adults’ lives related to happiness, including their health and trust in others. This research builds upon previous research that has suggested walkable built environments influence social capital, health, and happiness.”

“Exploring new ways of planning walkable urban and suburban village-like places may lead to happier, more connected communities that are better for the health and wellbeing of people and the planet,” the researchers said.

The research, titled Walkable Neighborhoods: Linkages Between Place, Health, and Happiness in Younger and Older Adults, was published today in the Journal of the American Planning Association.

Researchers said that the data for their study is based on a comprehensive household population survey of 1,064 adults living in Dublin City and its suburbs which was conducted from July to September in 2011.

The research was published by Kevin M Leyden, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Galway; Michael J Hogan, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Galway; Lorraine D’Arcy, a senior lecturer and the Sustainability Action Research & Innovation Lead at Technological University Dublin; Brendan Bunting, professor of psychology at Ulster University; and Sebastiaan Bierema, PhD candidate in the School of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Galway.

The study that the survey included residents from 16 neighbourhoods and those neighbourhoods were identified as being either high or low in terms of walkability based on an approach that used focus group and criterion-based ratings of neighbourhoods, existing census and city-level data analysis, and further neighbourhood walk-through evaluations by experts.

The researchers said: “The current findings provide additional empirical evidence that should encourage planners, engineers, politicians, developers, financial institutions, and related professions to have an open dialogue about the barriers and enablers to building new walkable neighbourhoods that support social connections, better health, and an improved quality of daily life.”

They added: “We found that the way neighbourhoods are planned and maintained mattered for happiness, health, and trust. Our findings suggest that mixed-use neighbourhood designs that enable residents to shop and socialize within walking distance to their homes have direct and indirect effects on happiness. We call for an ongoing dialogue and evaluation of the way our urban and suburban neighbourhoods are planned, designed, and developed, so that people can live in walkable places that better enable health and well-being.”

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