Sprawling cities = sprawling people?

An interesting post on Boing Boing asks the question: does sprawl make us fat? Does less sprawl = more walking/less driving = more exercise = fewer fat people?  Sorta makes sense to me.  If you live in an area where most of the services you need are within walking distance, and you choose to walk, chances are your weight is going to be pretty good.  Theoretically, anyway.

Critter and I were talking about this the other day, reflecting back on last year’s trip to Europe.  We were amazed by how much we could see and do just by walking…especially Amsterdam, where everything is so densely-packed.  We walked everywhere, only taking the bus when we were late for a train.  And the only fat people we saw were obviously tourists!  It was pretty sobering.  Everyone in Amsterdam either walks or bikes (cars are sort of a rare and expensive undertaking).  Berlin is very walkable, too — despite their fantastic mass transit, we spent 95% of our time there getting around on foot.

Compare that to our recent trip to sprawl-happy Phoenix, where nobody walks anywhere.  Ever.  They drive-drive-drive, because everything is so damned spread out and far away, sprawling uncontrollably in every direction with no end in sight.  City blocks are monstrous, and most of the streets are extra-wide with extra lanes, because cars are how people get around.  (Arizona does have more room for sprawl than other places, but that doesn’t mean they can’t reel it in a bit!)  I lived in the Phoenix/Mesa/Tempe area for 10 years, and drove absolutely everywhere…and most of the time I was fat-fat-fat. I can’t blame that all on sprawl, of course, but if I had been in a more neighborhood-like setting, with services closer than they were, I probably would have gotten a bit more exercise. On the flipside, for several years here in Seattle I lived in neighborhoods where everything was within a few blocks’ walk except my job.  I drove a hell of a lot less and was in far better shape!  The hills in Queen Anne and Capitol Hill can do ya plenty of good.

So how about you folks and where you live?  Do you find yourself walking more and weighing less, or vice versa?  Just curious!

0 thoughts on “Sprawling cities = sprawling people?

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  1. I’m not mentioning any numbers, but once I moved to rural Indiana from Seattle, I most definitely gained weight. Just like you said though, I can’t blame it all on the “sprawling” countryside or the fact that everyone here drives by automobile. That’s a rather convenient excuse.
    I’ve thought many times about breaking the mold around here and being the only person who rides a bike to work…in freezing cold temperatures! How crazy is that? Indeed it is, but change has to happen with each of us as individuals, right? If I made that change, maybe I would inspire another person around here to do the same. Who knows.
    There’s no doubt that people around here are seriously addicted to their cars and will not part with them easily. It would probably take more than them seeing my fat ass riding a bike across town. LOL!


  2. Where I live in Connecticut, it’s just outside of a very-walker friendly downtown area, but to get there, I’d need to cross some very dangerous intersections and highway entrances and exits. However, my apartment complex has a workout room, so I go down there and walk on the treadmill and in the summer, there’s a nice little road behind my apartments that goes along a golf course and ends at a reservoir. Where I work, though, it’s in the downtown area of a small town, so I walk EVERYWHERE when I’m working. I do enjoy walking, but when you live in New England and the weather is like it is now (negative numbers with the wind chill!!) it’s not always feasible.


  3. Agreed, Barry. Everytime I’ve gone to Europe, I’ve lost 10-15 pounds (in 3-4 weeks time), despite eating much more decadant food than I usually do. The only explanation is that, opposed to being in Seattle, I walked everywhere I went in Europe, or occasionally took mass transit, but found that it wasn’t really necessary.
    I took the bus to work during the icy roads spell, and even though the busses were running on time, it took me nearly 2 hours to get from Eastlake to Bothell (this is regular schedule; not snow schedule, and this is only one-way). During light traffic, I can drive there in less than 30 minutes. As much as I’d love to be able to walk everywhere, or take transit to work, it’s just not practical. And I’ve seen way too many bicyclists get run over by automobiles (sometimes due to the bicyclists’ own idiocy), so I’m not even going to try that. My roommate got hit by an SUV while driving to work on his scooter. Some bitch paying more attention to her cell phone conversation than the road. (It was a hit and run, but there was a witness, so this bitch is in some pretty hot water, and Chris is fine.)
    Seattle continues to claim it has one of the best transit systems in the country. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but if it is, it’s a sad commentary on the state of mass transit in this country.
    I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out the name of a book I read a few years ago on this subject (but it actually has an author’s name with citations attached, so it’s probably not as accurate as an anonymous blog post somewhere). Basically it pointed out the negative impact the automobile industry has had on the country. It talks about urban sprawl and declining mass transit systems. One specific example pointed to GMC, who, immediately after buying the train system in Los Angeles, tore the tracks up so people would have to buy automobiles. The cunts.


  4. I’m in a smallish town in Georgia, about a stone’s throw from the Alabama border. The biggest thing in town is the University, which isn’t all that big. One can start out at one edge of the campus and walk to the other side in less than a half hour, maybe a little longer if you run into traffic from classes getting out. My apartment complex backs right up to the campus and has a paved walking trail going between the two. I am the only person I know of who uses that walking trail rather than waiting for the shuttle to and from campus. I only know a few people who will walk anywhere on campus instead of taking the transit busses: I only ride them if the weather is too horrid for walking, or if I have something bulky to carry to a class.
    Most of the folks I see on the campus transit are rather larger than they should be, and a handful are grossly obese. I have ridden the busses and seen someone board at the student union and ride for 500 feet to the business building! Lazy, lazy bastards. *shaking head*
    I started walking to and from campus and everywhere in between this January, at start of term. Since then, I have dropped a dress size and a half. Like everyone else has noted, it’s not JUST the exercise, but I certainly wouldn’t have lost this much because of an extra salad or switching a yogurt for a candy bar. The walking helps a lot.
    And as a side note, I have also noticed a correlation between extremely obese students and backpacks equipped with wheels and luggage handles. Meh.


  5. I live in Mesa and I drive everywhere. You’re right, walking to get anywhere is impossible. I’d take the bus sometimes, but the mass transit system is a joke. The buses don’t go where you want to go and it takes forever to get anywhere (for example, it would take me three hours to get to work, about 20 miles from my house, using the bus system – yeah, I’m not doing that).


  6. Sorry “Myk Hell”, your opinions and experiences don’t count for anything if you don’t sign your full name to them. I mean, how do we know you really went to Europe, or if your roommate really was hit by a SUV? For all we know, you could be making that all up!
    (See how silly that argument is? 🙂


  7. I can see the point, but you have to admit that it’s hard to walk around in Phoenix during most of the year without sweating through your clothes and feeling a bit sticky. I think cold weather makes walking easier. I only bring this up because I live in Tucson, not by choice mind you, and I walk and ride my bike because I can’t afford a car and end up getting drenched more often then not, save for the few months were it is very cold and then walking is pleasant.


  8. I saw this phenomenon at work in Sydney, AU when I took my trip there. We were able to walk almost everywhere, and the trains ran all day long. And nary did a Chunk-a-saur did we see.
    Another thing I noticed in AU as well, was that there are no fast food advertisements on TV. In fact there aren’t many fast food places in general. Leads me to believe in the US we sit on the couch watching TV that says “hurry up, get in your car and drive to get some fat food so you can go home and get in front of TV again”


  9. Hi there, am I the only European to read this blog? Anyway the tendency I see over here (France) is that people have taken the habit of using their car to cross the street (barely an exaggeration) and we hear every so often government calls to reduce fat intake.
    When i don’t have to drive my kids at school, i do sometimes walk or bike to work, and get the same stares i got while in america: look-at-this-guy-he’s-a-pedestrian-which-is-suspicious-he -must-have-lost-his-licence, etc…


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