Physical Activity and the Built Environment in Residential Neighborhoods of Seoul and Seattle

An Empirical Study Based on Housewives′ GPS Walking Data and Travel Diaries

Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering.

Assistant professor So Ra Baek (urban planning) and collaborators engage in a pilot-study to ascertain the characteristic walking patterns and neighborhood features in residential areas of Seoul, Korea and Seattle, USA.

Four case neighborhoods were selected: two from Seoul and two from in and outside of the Seattle-Shoreline areas. As for participants, thirty Korean housewives in Seoul and thirty Korean-American housewives in the Seattle area were selected respectively, and their socio-demographic characteristics, GPS records, and travel diary data for seven days were collected and analyzed. Considering the typical rainy seasons in the two cities, data collections, including the physical activity assessment by GPS devices, were carried out from May to June and from September to October in Seoul, and from July to October in Seattle during the year 2010.

Noteworthy research findings include the following: Korean participants in Seoul walk about 2.6 km on average per day, while Korean-American participants in Seattle walk about 400m on average per day. In the case sites of Seoul, 75% of grocery shopping activities happen within the neighborhood by walking, while only 17% of those activities on foot happen in the case sites of Seattle. As for the most walking activity, about 70% of total walking amounts are related to utilitarian walking in Seoul sites, while 50% of total walking are related to recreational walking in Seattle sites. Recreational walking and utilitarian walking occur separately in Seattle sites, while the two walking types are often combined in Seoul sites, which also contribute to more walking amounts and farther walking distances in Seoul sites.

This paper empirically confirms the widely held assumptions in part that residents in Seoul, a relatively high-density and high mixed-use city, walk more than those in Seattle, a relatively low-density and low mixed-use city. This paper also recognizes that in the case of both cities, more walking activities occur in the neighborhood built environment, where finely-grained street networks, small lots and blocks, various pedestrian destinations, public transit access, etc are provided in close connection. The amount and frequency of walking activities, as well as the fineness of neighborhood features, however, are remarkably different in the two cities, whose implications deserve in-depth exploration in further studies. 


Sohyun Park, Professor
Department of Architecture and Architectural Engineering, Seoul National University

Yeemyung Choi, Researcher
R&DB Foundation, Seoul National University

Hanlim Seo, General Manager
Office for Civic Solutions, Seoul

Anne Vernez Moudon, Professor
C.-H. Christine Bae, Associate Professor
Department of Urban Design and Planning, University of Washington, Seattle

So Ra Baek, Assistant Professor
Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University at Buffalo


Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering

Date Published