The City IKEA Built
Hold onto your instruction manuals: Ikea is building an entire neighborhood in East London. The mixed-use community will be developed on 26 acres of land in Stratford, just south of Olympic Park. Strand East, as the neighborhood is being called, will be home to a Courtyard by Marriott hotel, roughly 1,200 homes, and nearly half a million square feet of commercial space (but no Ikea store, reports the Financial Times) - all wedged between two waterways. It will be developed by LandProp, a real estate subsidiary of the Inter Ikea Group that's built similar projects in Poland and other parts of Europe.
The distinguishing element of Strand East may be its devotion to walkability. The neighborhood will include many car-free zones, and cars that do enter the area will be stowed in an underground parking lot, out of sight. Harald Muller, a spokesman for the project, told real estate information source CoStar UK that Ikea wants to apply the same emphasis on sustainability to Strand East that it does to its retail products:
As with our furniture, we are very conscious about sustainable and ecological solutions. Firstly we look to leave cars out of schemes and reduce individual traffic.
Strand East won't be alone as a car-free urban community in Europe. Dutch, Danish, and German cities have made extensive use of car-free zones in downtown areas. The city of Freiburg, Germany, has emphasized walking and cycling since the 1970s [PDF]; residents of Vauban, one of the city's newer neighborhoods, banned cars to the periphery of the community. Those kinds of pedestrian-friendly land-use policies have resulted in much higher rates of walking and bike riding in these countries than in the United States, according to the planning-health researchers John Pucher and Ralph Buehler [PDF]:
In the above study, published in the December 2010 issue of the journal Build Environment, Pucher and Buehler review the growing body of scientific literature outlining the strong connection between walkable (and ride-able) environments and good health. Cycling to work has been linked to decreased mortality rates and increased life expectancy in Danish populations. The health benefits remain even when traffic injuries are considered; a recent Dutch study reports a gain of up to 14 months of life after switching from a car to a bike commute compared to a loss of only about a week of life from the risk of an accident, according to Pucher and Buehler. The researchers also point out that people in Scandinavian countries, which tend to have high rates of walking and cycling, have low rates of obesity, whereas rates in car-centric places like the United States and Canada tend to be high:
Increasing car dependence may help explain the increasing rates of obesity in OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries, just as the higher levels of car dependence may help explain the current, higher rates of obesity in North America and Australia compared to Europe. Of course, these correlations do not prove that car dependence causes obesity, but they are at least consistent with that hypothesis. Moreover, the public health literature provides evidence that there is a causal link between rising motorization and the worsening obesity epidemic.
Considering how much walking residents of Strand East are likely to do, it stands to reason that this will be a particularly healthy population. If nothing else, its residents will be limber and ready when it comes time to travel any great distance on foot — during a marathon, say, or longer yet, while shopping at any Ikea megastore.