A trip to your local playground isn’t as easy as it used to be. Researchers at the University of Calgary say newer communities have built-in barriers which prevent children from staying active.
“The older neighborhood has more capacity for a child to play outdoors, within their neighborhood, within their block, than the newer neighborhoods do,” says Dr. Tish Doyle-Baker, a Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary.
Researchers found it came down to simple things like having sidewalks on both sides of the street. In newer communities, like Somerset in the city’s southwest, there’s only one.
“If you don’t have a sidewalk, you’re not going to walk. In Hillhurst, you walk everywhere because there’s a sidewalk there,” says Dr. Doyle-Baker.
One of the oldest communities in Calgary, Hillhurst-Sunnyside, rated the best for its “playability”, defined as the opportunities for kids to engage in random play.
Also working in their favor, older communities tend to have big front yards and the homes have front windows, so parents can watch their children play.
In newer neighborhoods, front windows are often replaced with garages, and streets are wider and busier.
“If a park is on one side of a street, it won’t make a difference to a child’s playability, because they won’t access that street,” she adds.
The study’s findings didn’t surprise those who live in these communities. Some say they already knew the benefits of living in older neighborhoods in the inner city.
“We’re so close to the pathways, we rarely drive, we take the train or walk with the kids in the Chariot,” says Hillhurst resident Jane Cook.
The study provides food for thought for parents, urban designers and city planners.
Canada’s rate of childhood obesity has tripled in the last two decades, and experts say over 50% of Canadian kids aren’t getting enough exercise, to burn off their caloric intake.
Dr. Doyle-Baker says one of the ways to fight the increasing epidemic of childhood obesity may be as simple as encouraging more child’s play.
The four communities involved were Hillhurst, Somerset, Glamorgan and Rundle.
Kinesiology student Meaghan Nolan and Urban Design professor Dr. Bev Sandalack also contributed to the study.