Neighborhoods and Health: A Quick Trip to Spain


Marion Ceraso, MHS, MA
WI Population Health Service Fellowship
Program Director

On a trip to Valencia, Spain, with recent Fellowship readings on my mind, I was on the lookout for things like mixed use development, strong public transit, and pedestrian and bike friendly neighborhoods.  I like this quote from the National Center for Healthy Housing report:

“…in neighborhoods that foster the conditions that promote good health, one often sees a cascading series of mutually reinforcing attributes that together create prime conditions for health: pedestrian friendly neighborhood design reduces car usage, supports transit ridership, and improves air quality…;
mixed-use development increases the likelihood of locating healthy food and retail within neighborhoods while also encouraging walking as a mode of transportation…”

With the caveat that this is neither an exhaustive, nor a critical view of the city, here are a few positive examples and some random reflections:

"Virgin Plaza" - a sort of living room for the city
1.    Multi-use development in the urban center, and even in many suburban communities is mostly the norm, with co-location of businesses, housing, parks, and other recreational public spaces. There are pretty nice parks in both high and low-income neighborhoods. The Spanish tradition of daily walking and socializing out-of-doors is supported (mutually reinforcing attributes?) by having so many destinations within walking distance, including restored historic buildings, places of worship, art venues, restaurants, shops and farmers’ markets.  Valencia’s central market is incredible - one of Europe’s oldest and biggest – here’s a fun video from the market of an orchestrated flash mob.

Bus stop palm
Street Art!

2. Food venues offer fresh fruit, vegetables, fish.  Even lots of the fast food is comparatively healthy.

Not gross. Delicious.  What is it?
3.   The city has varied, accessible and convenient transport options, including… high speed rail! 
The “ave”(bird) goes over 300 km/h (193 mph) 
Slowing down to enter the station 

 4.   Bike lanes and bike sharing are relatively recent and very popular additions.

5.    Restoration of historic buildings means the city is more beautiful to walk through.

Restored mansion

City Hall

6.   Like many coastal cities, Valencia used to “turn its back on the water.”  But now the waterfront and beach have been cleaned up, and a pedestrian walkway added.  The area is reachable by tram and bus and very popular with locals and tourists.

7.   Valencia’s climate allows for clothes to be dried outdoors.  Almost  no one uses a dryer, which seems like a great thing for the environment, but also for relationships between neighbors, since most people live in apartments with stacked clothes lines and you inevitably have to go fetch your clothes when they fall on your neighbor’s line.

8.   Commercial activity downtown and in the historic district is vibrant.  One of the things that makes the city so fun to walk around are the classic old stores that remind me of a much earlier time in the US, when small family-owned businesses were the norm.  It’s changing fast, but in Valencia you can still find sewing supply stores that sell buttons, ribbon and thread; glove shops, hat makers, taxidermists, fan shops and locksmiths.
I cheated, this one is Segovia