Make it Walkable … and Sittable! Lessons from Vancouver’s West End for the new Arbutus Greenway

Make it Walkable … and Sittable!  Lessons from Vancouver’s West End for the new Arbutus Greenway

Benches make it walkable

It may be counterintuitive to think of outdoor benches as being important for keeping seniors physically active.

They’re used for sitting after all.

But new research shows that benches make it possible for older adults and vulnerable seniors to get out of their homes more, meet friends, and stay in their homes and communities longer. In short, public benches make neighbourhoods more livable for seniors, improve their health, and increase their social connectedness. 

Benches are a low cost solution with healthy returns

Findings from a recent Centre for Hip Health and Mobility study at the University of British Columbia show that adding outdoor seating to public spaces helps combat widespread loneliness—an issue of ongoing concern for the City of Vancouver. “As cities struggle to prepare for Canada’s rapidly aging demographic, benches may be a cost-effective health investment. Seniorsisolation is a pervasive problem, but cities can take simple actions,” said lead-researcher, and co-author Dr. Joanie Sims-Gould. Benches contribute to the friendliness of the neighbourhood, provide opportunities for social interaction, and encourage people to walk for utilitarian and leisure purposes.

Lessons for the Arbutus Greenway

While city planners begin to focus on developing the Arbutus Greenway, they may be able to learn from the success stories of other neighbourhoods, such as the Comox Greenway.

The research findings from a Comox Greenway study are based on indivduals’ 60 years and older who live in Vancouver’s Yaletown, West End and Downtown neighbourhoods. All areas with impressively high Walk Scores® of 94–97/100. Research participants had a positive concensus towards the benches that were added as part of the Comox Greenway development. They identified benches as a key factor that enhanced their community’s livablity.

“Benches may be considered as important as mobility aides, such as walkers, to help people walk in their communities” says lead researcher Dr. Joanie Sims-Gould.

Benches can be just as useful as canes and walkers

Those research study participants with physical challenges such as arthritis and back pain, said that benches were especially important for providing a place to rest while completing daily errands or walking for exercise. “Benches are especially critical for the physical and mental health of older adults with mobility limitations, who, may otherwise be sedentary and socially isolated Someone may be hesitant to leave their house if they can’t walk that far, but benches help to reduce that fear.” said lead author Callista Ottoni, a Manager of Knowledge Translation from the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility, a UBC-VCHRI research centre. Dr. Joanie Sims Gould added, “benches may be considered as important as mobility aides, such as walkers, to help people walk in their communities”.

____________________

How walkable is your neighbourhood?

Type your postal code into the Walk Scores website.

Read the original article, “Benches become like porches”: Built and social environment influences on older adults’ experiences of mobility and well-being,” from the Journal of Social Science and Medicine.