The unmet demand for walkability: Disparities between preferences and actual choices for residential environments in Toronto and Vancouver

Lawrence D. Frank, Suzanne E. Kershaw, James E. Chapman, Monica Campbell, Helena M. Swinkels


OBJECTIVES: Individual preferences for residential location, neighbourhood character and travel options are not always met. The availability and cost of housing and several other factors often require compromise. The primary objectives of this study were to examine neighbourhood preferences, quantify unmet demand for more walkable environments and explore associations between the built environment, travel behaviour and health after controlling for neighbourhood preference.

METHODS: A web-based, visually oriented residential preference survey was conducted with 1,525 adults in the Greater Toronto Area and 1,223 adults in Metro Vancouver aged 25 and older (5.8% and 11.8% of total potential recruits, respectively). Participants were randomly selected from a pre-recruited panel across a range of objectively calculated walkability and income levels at the forward sortation area level.

RESULTS: Depending on the neighbourhood design attribute, between 45% and 64% of residents in the cities of Toronto and Vancouver strongly preferred living in walkable settings, compared with between 6% and 15% who strongly preferred auto-oriented places. Of participants who perceived their current neighbourhood as very auto-oriented, between 11% and 20% of City of Toronto participants and 6% and 30% of City of Vancouver participants strongly preferred a very walkable neighbourhood. Residents of highly walkable neighbourhoods reported walking significantly more for utilitarian purposes, taking public transit more frequently and driving fewer kilometres.

CONCLUSION: Strong preferences for walking and transit-supportive neighbourhoods exist in two of Canada’s largest metropolitan regions, with considerable unmet demand observed for such environments. The findings provide evidence for policies that enable walkability and inform market analysis, planning and regulatory approaches that better align with the supply and demand of more walkable neighbourhood environments. Providing increased opportunities for active transportation can have positive impacts on health-enhancing behaviours.


Residential selection; walking; city planning; environment and public health; neighbourhood; Canada