Walkability in Flanders (Belgium): Developing a tool to support healthy spatial planning

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Insufficient physical activity is a key factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, different cancers and diabetes type II. According to the World Health Organisation more than half of the European population does not meet physical activity recommendations. International studies have shown that living in high-walkable neighbourhoods is associated with higher physical activity levels. A clear understanding of the geographical variation of the walkability within a region is necessary for effective spatial interventions promoting physical activity. However to date in European no analytical spatial tool at a regional scale exists to provide such an evidence base. Our research mapped walkability at a high resolution for the entire region of Flanders. Analysis of the spatial distribution at a regional scale reveals only a few distinct areas showing a higher walkability score in comparison to other Flemish neighbourhoods. At a local scale, differences between neighbourhoods or districts are apparent and can be addressed. The tool provides support in making more evidence-based healthy spatial policy decisions. Based on the resulting map an easy accessible open-source online tool was developed which can be used to assess the walkability and to compare neighbourhoods within a municipality or in reference to other towns and cities.
Walkability, Physical activity, Analytical spatial tools, Urban environment and health Introduction