What makes someone go for a run around her neighborhood at 6 a.m.? What makes a dad take his kids to the playground instead of turning on the TV? What promotes “active living” and how does it affect a community as a whole?
That’s what architecture professor Jawaid Haider and colleagues from the H. Campbell and Eleanor R. Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture are trying to answer in a multi-year research project in the Philadelphia suburb of Pottstown. Haider, Peter Aeschbacher, and Mallika Bose recently completed the first two phases of “Planning and Design Strategies for Healthy Living, Parks, and Recreation in the Pottstown Area,” a four-part study aimed at revitalizing the community through improving the health and well-being of residents.
The project began four years ago, when the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation (PAHWF) asked the College of Arts and Architecture and the Hamer Center for Community Design to help the town promote healthy living through its parks and recreation system. After preliminary interviews and studies, Haider and his colleagues were asked to submit a grant proposal that was ultimately funded by the foundation in spring 2008.
Given the role parks and recreation systems play in promoting active living, the objectives, recommendations, and strategies developed for this study have widespread relevance beyond the study region, explained Haider. “Small towns all over Pennsylvania, as well as in other parts of the United States, are confronted with comparable planning issues. The predicament many communities are currently facing in terms of health, with an increase in obesity and other diseases related to sedentary lifestyles, has brought the role of the built environment in encouraging and facilitating physical activity into sharp focus.”
During the project’s first two phases, funded by the PAHWF and the Hamer Center, the researchers identified critical issues in the community, such as suburban sprawl and park accessibility, and developed planning and design strategies for addressing those issues. For example, they found Pottstown’s parks are accessible by foot for a large population, but there are many barriers to park use, such as lack of knowledge about facilities and fear of crime at the parks.
A team of architects and landscape architects may not seem like the most obvious group to address the issue of active living, but the built environment—where those professionals play a key role—is an important factor in a healthy lifestyle. As more and more land is lost to suburban sprawl, careful planning and design is needed to ensure there are adequate and easily accessible parks and recreational facilities.
Haider and his colleagues are working with the PAHWF to find funding for phases three and four of the study, which would include overseeing implementation of recommendations and evaluation of new/renovated facilities and how they are used.