Physical activity-related health and economic benefits of building walkable neighbourhoods: a modelled comparison between brownfield and greenfield developments, Feb 2019

By Belén Zapata-Diomedi, Claire Boulangé, Billie Giles-Corti, Kath Phelan, Simon Washington, J. Lennert Veerman and Lucy Dubrelle Gunn


A consensus is emerging in the literature that urban form can impact health by either facilitating or deterring physical activity (PA). However, there is a lack of evidence measuring population health and the economic benefits relating to alternative urban forms. We examined the issue of housing people within two distinct types of urban development forms: a medium-density brownfield development in an established area with existing amenities (e.g. daily living destinations, transit), and a low-density suburban greenfield development. We predicted the health and economic benefits of a brownfield development compared with a greenfield development through their influence on PA.


We combined a new Walkability Planning Support System (Walkability PSS) with a quantitative health impact assessment model. We used the Walkability PSS to estimate the probability of residents’ transport walking, based on their exposure to urban form in the brownfield and greenfield developments. We developed the underlying algorithms of the Walkability PSS using multi-level multivariate logistic regression analysis based on self-reported data for transport walking from the Victorian Integrated Survey of Transport and Activity 2009–10 and objectively measured urban form in the developments. We derived the difference in transport walking minutes per week based on the probability of transport walking in each of the developments and the average transport walking time per week among those who reported any transport walking. We then used the well-established method of the proportional multi-cohort multi-state life table model to translate the difference in transport walking minutes per week into health and economic benefits.


If adult residents living in the greenfield neighbourhood were instead exposed to the urban development form observed in a brownfield neighbourhood, the incidence and mortality of physical inactivity-related chronic diseases would decrease. Over the life course of the exposed population (21,000), we estimated 1600 health-adjusted life years gained and economic benefits of A$94 million.


Our findings indicate that planning policies that create walkable neighbourhoods with access to shops, services and public transport will lead to substantial health and economic benefits associated with reduced incidence of physical inactivity related diseases and premature death.