Investigating Age-Friendly Communities through Walkability
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Walkability is a measure of how conducive a particular area is to active transportation, specifically towards walking. Research had placed more emphasis on objective measures of walkability, utilizing audits, indices, and GIS tools to assess urban form. There was considerable less use of subjective experiences to evaluate walking environments until fairly recently (Montemurro, et al., 2011). In accordance to aging populations across developed cities and their shifting needs, research has now redirected its focus to how seniors perceive walkability. This study investigated the relationship between objective and subjective measures of walkability for senior populations. The objectives of this research are to: i) assess objective walkability in two neighbourhoods within the City of Toronto, Wychwood and Edenbridge-Humber Valley, contrasting of urban form and walkability; ii) investigate the subjective ecological factors that influence how walkability is perceived; and iii) determine the relationship between both measures of walkability relative to senior populations. The multi-phased, mixed-methods approach used in this study required both objective and subjective tools to assessing walkability. The walkability audit, the Senior Walking Environmental Assessment Tool – Revised (SWEAT-R) served as the objective measure and was performed on multiple occasions within both neighbourhoods. Subjective measures included the use of focus groups, go-along interviews, and traditional interviews. A total of twenty-eight participants across both neighbourhoods were recruited and spoken to, upon which saturation in data was reached. The findings of this research echoed the efficacy of objective measures widely cited in literature, while underscoring the importance of subjective measures in determining contexts that influence perceptions of walkability and walking behaviour outcomes. Objective assessments did not adequately capture the holistic relationships between seniors and their surrounding environments. Planners, public health, and other experts interested in promoting active transportation and healthy built environments for age-friendly communities must utilize effective tools to assess neighbourhood walkability. This study presents suggestions for improved walkability assessments.