WALKABILLY: New MUN Prof On Making St. John’s More Walkable and Bike-friendly

"I’m interested in understanding how to design cities in a way that encourages physical activity, promotes sustainable transportation, and reduces social inequalities in health."

Currently based in Saskatchewan, Dr. Daniel Fuller will be relocating to St. John’s in the coming months to take a spot at Memorial’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation. Dr. Fuller was recently named a Canada Research Chair (one of the country’s highest honours for research excellence) in the field of Population Physical Activity.

“I’m interested in understanding how to design cities in a way that encourages physical activity, promotes sustainable transportation, and reduces social inequalities in health,” he says of his research, which is a mix of urban planning and public health. His more recent research also adds smart technologies to the mix, including activity trackers and smart phones.

Canada Research Chair is a title given to academics like Fuller to drive Canadian research and improve Canada’s depth of knowledge and quality of life.

“One of the objectives of the Canada Research Chair program is to increase the capacity of universities to produce and apply new knowledge,” says Fuller. “One of my first research priorities will be developing a database of urban environment measures for Canada.”

“Walkability and fast food restaurant access are two examples of urban environment measures. Currently, we do not have this type of database for research in Canada, which limits our ability to conduct large national studies.” Fuller plans to integrate the data with the Newfoundland and Labrador Center for Health Information and the Statistics Canada Research Data Center at MUN.

Fuller also sees potential in our city’s own tangly history with bike lanes. In recent years, members of council have raised questions about the city’s 20-year bike plan, with claims of wasted space and the danger to property values.

“This is exactly the type of question my research is interested in answering,” says Fuller. “For example, I’m working with the City of Saskatoon to evaluate two recent protected bike lanes installed downtown. It might be possible to collect retrospective data and evaluate the impact of the bicycle lanes on housing prices and physical activity in St. John’s. This will require partnerships between research and the community but it’s definitely possible.”

For Fuller, walkability and bikeabilty are about more than just improving health and easing traffic.

“In general, there is a positive association between walkability and housing prices,” says Fuller. “As walkability increases, housing prices increase, controlling for population growth and lot size. For example, a study by Stephanie Yates and Norman Miller shows that result for residential property.

A study by Gary Pivo and Jeffrey Fisher shows a similar association for commercial real estate. Walkability and bikeability are correlated so, by logical, not scientific, extension, bikeability may be associated with housing prices.”

Happy City St. John’s is pleased to know that the doctor is in. “It’s great to see more and more research being done on how our built environment shapes our health,” says Happy City Chair Josh Smee.

“This kind of work reminds us of just how much power our municipal governments have to shape our day-to-day lives. By and large, it’s the City of St. John’s that is responsible for the small design decisions that make the difference in whether or not a neighbourhood encourages physical activity.”

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