Talking the Walk: Perceptions of Neighborhood Characteristics from Users of Open Streets Programs in Latin America and the USA

J Urban Health. 2018 Dec;95(6):899-912. doi: 10.1007/s11524-018-0262-6.


Physical inactivity is estimated to be the fourth leading cause of global mortality. Strategies to increase physical activity (PA) increasingly emphasize environmental and policy changes including the modification of neighborhood environments to promote walking and other forms of healthy activity. Open Streets (OS) initiatives, an important and growing strategy to modify neighborhood environments for PA, create temporary parks for recreational activity by closing streets to motor vehicle traffic, thereby offering health and community building benefits. We used the Stanford Neighborhood Discovery Tool (DT)-photo/voice software on a tablet-to train neighborhood residents to act as "citizen scientist" observers of the local built environment on a non-event day and during an OS initiative. The purposes of this project were as follows: (1) to assess adult residents' perceptions of neighborhood characteristics of the OS initiative in three socioeconomically diverse sites and (2) to test the DT for use in three international urban settings with OS initiatives; Bogota, Colombia; San Francisco, USA; and Temuco, Chile, among a multigenerational, multiethnic sample of adults including, for the first time, a vulnerable population of homeless adults (Bogota). Using the DT, participants walked an OS route taking photos and recording reasons for the photos, then completed a 25-item demographic/environmental observation survey and a 16-item Reflection Survey on perceived environmental changes. A total of 18 themes were reported by participants with areas of overlapping themes (e.g., Community and Social Connectedness) and areas where a single site reported a theme (e.g., Social Isolation in Older Adults). Ten of the 18 themes were identified by at least two sites including "Bike Resources" and "Services", indicating the value of programming at OS initiatives. The themes of "Festive Environment" and "Family Friendly Environment" reflect the quality of the overall environment for participants. Four themes (Community and Social Connectedness, Family Friendly Environment, PA, and Safety) were reported by all sites. Three of the four unifying themes were also ranked among the highest reported categories of "seemed better" on the Reflection Survey (Ease of Walking, Overall Safety of Neighborhood, and Friendliness of Environment), providing additional confirmation of the shared experience of social, health, and psychological benefits from OS initiatives. OS initiatives offer a global strategy for increasing neighborhood opportunities for PA and a potential site for training citizen scientists to document environmental influences on PA.

Keywords: Built environment; Citizen scientist; Discovery tool; Neighborhood; Open Streets; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bicycling / psychology*
  • Bicycling / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environment Design / statistics & numerical data*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Latin America
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Walking / psychology*
  • Walking / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult