Disparities in urban neighborhood conditions: evidence from GIS measures and field observation in New York City

J Public Health Policy. 2009:30 Suppl 1:S264-85. doi: 10.1057/jphp.2008.47.


Although many low-income urban areas are highly walkable by conventional measures such as population density or land use mix, chronic diseases related to lack of physical activity are more common among residents of these areas. Disparities in neighborhood conditions may make poor areas less attractive environments for walking, offsetting the advantages of density and land use mix. This study compared poor and nonpoor neighborhoods in New York City, using geographic information systems measures constructed from public data for US census tracts within New York City (N=2,172) as well as field observation of a matched-pair sample of 76 block faces on commercial streets in poor and nonpoor neighborhoods. Poor census tracts had significantly fewer street trees, landmarked buildings, clean streets, and sidewalk cafes, and higher rates of felony complaints, narcotics arrests, and vehicular crashes. The field observation showed similar results. Improving aesthetic and safety conditions in poor neighborhoods may help reduce disparities in physical activity among urban residents.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Environment Design / statistics & numerical data*
  • Geographic Information Systems*
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity*
  • New York City
  • Poverty
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*
  • Walking