Understanding the materiality of neighbourhoods in ‘Healthy Practices’: outdoor exercise practices in a new master-planned estate

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The importance of neighbourhood design for health outcomes is well-established. Yet interactions between people and neighbourhood features, and how they are incorporated into daily routines, remain conceptually and empirically underdeveloped. Using theories of social practice this paper foregrounds the materiality of neighbourhoods to understand the role of natural and built features in everyday practices of physical activity. Drawing on longitudinal data about residents who recently moved to a master-planned estate, we discuss our findings in regard to the implications for those involved in designing and building new neighbourhoods. Our findings show how the presence—or absence—of certain material features affects the performance, frequency and timing of practices, such that they were modified, shifted to other (indoor) forms, or not performed at all. In addition, to effect change the meanings about, and skills to perform, exercise practices need to be supported in addition to their material elements. Lastly, the timing and synchronisation of exercise practices in relation to other daily routines is crucial to their ongoing performance. In focusing on how the material features of neighbourhoods co-constitute practices of outdoor physical activity we provide new insights into how design is implicated in health and wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-72
Number of pages18
JournalUrban Policy and Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • households
  • Outdoor environments
  • parks
  • physical activity
  • social practice theory

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