The Suburbs Are Killing You

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Why you should care

Not using that wide-open space to walk around can be very bad for your health.

For a long time after the Industrial Revolution, cities had a bad health rap: choked with pollution, crowded, full of criminals and generally insalubrious. While megacities in the developing world are still considered pretty unhealthy — many (who can) try to escape the bad air in Beijing and Delhi, for instance — elsewhere, the tables have turned. Now it’s the suburbs that are hurting you. Yes, all that green grass and subdivided open space could be stealing your life, day by day.

The main reason, of course, is that most suburbs are not so walkable. Many developments were designed for a single use, which means that residential areas are segregated from commercial ones. To get to the town center, or any “public” area, you need a car. And so you don’t walk to the market, or to school, or to the movie theater. In a city, on the other hand, houses and apartments mingle with stores and offices. Parking space is often scant. So urbanites tend to walk more and drive much less. City dwellers are much less likely to be overweight or obese than their suburban cousins.

All is not lost in Levittown, though. Studies have found that even in the suburbs, ramping up the mixture of land use in a neighborhood can reduce the number of obese people by up to 20 percent. So it’s not all suburbs that kill you. It’s just the ones that discourage you from walking.

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