The incorporation of green spaces along with pleasant walking and cycling routes into new housing developments is often cited as a way of encouraging residents to get physically active. But there has been a shortage of evidence to demonstrate what works to housebuilders and designers.
A team of UK researchers has therefore set out to provide an answer, appropriately scrutinising the community created at the Athletes' Village for the London 2012 Olympics, known now in its legacy mode as East Village, in Stratford, east London.
The research is being carried out as part of a project known as ENABLE, or Examining Neighbourhood Activities in Built Living Environments in London. It is led by a medical research team at St George's, University of London, collaborating with experts from the University of Bristol, the University of Melbourne in Australia, the Social & Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
The study seeks evidence on whether changing the built environment can increase physical activity levels as well as indicators of physical and mental health in the general population. It is supported by grants from the Medical Research Council's national prevention research initiative and the National Institute for Health Research.
The mixed-use neighbourhood includes commercial and retail space plus education and transport facilities with some 2,800 homes built to date. Just over half of the homes are owned by property investors Delancey and Qatari Diar, and privately rented by their rental management company, Get Living London.
The remainder are owned and managed by Triathlon Homes, a joint venture of housing associations East Thames Group and Southern Housing Group along with urban development and investment company First Base. Triathlon offers homes for affordable rent as well as shared ownership, making this a mixed community.
The London 2012 Olympics facilities were designed in accordance with a sustainable development strategy, dedicated to delivering what independent body the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 called "the greenest games ever".
The village's landscape is designed for both people and nature, with features ranging from more formal planted squares and the community hub of Victory Park to the multi-habitat wetlands that are part of the site's broader water management strategy. The wetlands have oak, ash, silver beam, field maple and wild cherry trees as well as wild flowers alongside reeds, rushes, grasses and sedges.
A series of interconnecting water bodies harvests storm water run-off from the village and cleans it so that it can be reused to irrigate landscaped areas.
Under the site's evolution to East Village, ecological designer Biodiversity by Design has continued to chart and promote ecological value, carrying out annual monitoring of target species groups and advising on management interventions.
The study is looking at the physical activity levels, health and well-being, and perceptions of their environment of 1,497 people from more than 1,000 households who are resident at or moving to East Village, as well as those living elsewhere in London to enable comparisons to be made. The study group is drawn from adults living in all forms of rented housing.
Encouraging physical activity
- Easy access to open land and parkland - East Village has three children's play areas and 35 acres of open land and parkland.
- Good public transport links.
- Active travel options including extensive walking and cycle paths, with the latter connecting to the London Cycle Network.
- The site is adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which has 35km of paths and nature trails and 25 acres of green space.
- Design features include street furniture, pedestrianised and public space, and secure bicycle parking.
- School and retail facilities are within easy walking distance.
- Resident car parking is restricted - fewer than one-sixth of homes have a designated parking space.
- Community activities are promoted via the residents' online platform, Yonder. The site is also home to the E20 Football Academy for young people.
The study is expected to produce its full findings later this year. Christopher Owen, professor of epidemiology research at St George's, University of London, says: "Our initial assessment of the focus groups in social housing show that participants in the East Village are enjoying the space. They are commenting on how it is a clean and safe environment, which is encouraging more activity, but time will show whether that does translate into healthier behaviours."
He says the research will result in the development of guidance for planners, architects and developers. "We hope to identify the particular features that work and those that don't," Owen explains. "We're aiming to come up with evidence-based recommendations for future housing that will encourage future healthy living."
|Project team (games and legacy)|
|Initial client||Olympic Delivery Authority|
|Principal contractor||Lendlease LUC|
|Landscape design||Vogt Landscape Architects, Applied Landscape Design|
|Ecological designer||Biodiversity by Design|
|Water-quality scientist||Waterwise Solutions|
|Soil scientist||Tim O'Hare Associates|
|Groundworks and landscape contractors||Gavin Jones, Dixon Landscapes, Frosts Landscapes, idverde UK, Careys|
This case study is from Horticulture Week's Landscape4Places campaign hub. The Landscape4Places campaign seeks to highlight the contribution of quality landscaping to great place-making. For further details about the campaign, go to www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/landscape-for-places.