Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 95, Issue 6, pp 899–912 | Cite as

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

  • Susan G. ZieffEmail author
  • Elaine A. Musselman
  • Olga L. Sarmiento
  • Silvia A. Gonzalez
  • Nicolas Aguilar-Farias
  • Sandra J. Winter
  • J. Aaron Hipp
  • Karoll Quijano
  • Abby C. King


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.


Open Streets Physical activity Discovery tool Neighborhood Citizen scientist Built environment 



Partial funding was provided by the YMCA San Francisco Buchanan Branch (Zieff). Partial funding in support of the Discovery Tool came from The Robert Wood Johnson Grant ID#73343 (PI: King). Bogotá’s project was funded by the Research Office at Universidad de los Andes, and the Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation (Colciencias grant number726-2016). Aguilar-Farias and Hipp were funded by the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at Washington University in St. Louis (DIUFRO DIE15-0004). Winter is supported by the Nutrilite Health Institute Wellness Fund provided by Amway to the Stanford Prevention Research Center. King is supported in part by US Public Health Service Grants 1R01DK102016 (PI: King), 1R01CA211048-01 (PI: King), 1U54EB020405 supporting the National Center for Mobility Data Integration and Insight (PI: S. Delp), and the Nutrilite Health Institute Wellness Fund provided by Amway to the Stanford Prevention Research Center.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2018
corrected publication [June/2018]

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan G. Zieff
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elaine A. Musselman
    • 1
  • Olga L. Sarmiento
    • 2
  • Silvia A. Gonzalez
    • 2
    • 3
  • Nicolas Aguilar-Farias
    • 4
  • Sandra J. Winter
    • 5
  • J. Aaron Hipp
    • 6
  • Karoll Quijano
    • 2
  • Abby C. King
    • 5
  1. 1.San Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Universidad de los AndesBogotaColombia
  3. 3.Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research InstituteOttawa, OntarioCanada
  4. 4.Universidad de la FronteraTemucoChile
  5. 5.Stanford University School of MedicinePalo AltoUSA
  6. 6.North Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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