Planner to Study BNMC Infrastructure Changes

Study will focus on how changes affect employees' physical activity

Release Date: April 5, 2007

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Award-winning urban planner Samina Raja, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, conducts interdisciplinary community research aimed at improving life in Buffalo and Western New York.

Now she has been awarded a $105,000 contract from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) to study physical activity levels among the 6,000 employees on the medical campus in relation to improvements made to its infrastructure and streetscape.

The project, "Evaluating the Effect of Infrastructure Improvements in Workplaces on the Physical Activity of Employees," will use a two-stage survey to conduct what Raja calls a "natural experiment" in that her team will audit levels of physical activity before and after improvements are made to the physical infrastructure.

The survey instrument will be designed in consultation with architecture and design consultants overseeing the design and implementation of the improvements.

"There has been research that looks at how the design of a neighborhood's sidewalks, streets, and land-use patterns affect the physical activity levels of adults living there," Raja says. "Ours, however, will be the first of its kind to look at how such changes influence physical activity level around a work site."

She adds that her research team will coordinate this study with larger efforts by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to evaluate similar projects focused on by its nationwide Active Living by Design program.

Matthew Enstice, executive director with Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, says "The BNMC Streetscape and Infrastructure Improvement Program is intended to ensure multi-modal access, develop a pedestrian-oriented and campus-like environment, and cultivate a sense of place."

He adds that the program also aims to promote a healthy community by integrating the medical campus with the surrounding neighborhoods. With this in mind, Raja's study may be expanded to audit activity changes among those living in the area immediately adjacent to the BNMC.

"The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is committed to creating an environment that supports active living and healthy lifestyles," Enstice says.

"Dr. Raja will help us better understand how streetscape improvements should be designed so as to have a positive impact on the health of our employees, patients, visitors and surrounding neighborhoods. We are excited about the partnership and consider the project a national model."

Raja's community research projects often are interdisciplinary and collaborative in nature. They have included a study of the influence of the built environment on physical activity and obesity among youth, with Li Yin, Ph.D., UB assistant professor of urban and regional planning, and pediatricians Leonard H. Epstein, M.D., UB Distinguished Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and research professor, Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, and James Roemmich, M.D., UB assistant professor of pediatrics.

In the area of fiscal impacts, she is currently studying, along with William Page, UB professor of urban and regional planning, the impact of intergovernmental transfers on promoting sprawl in New York counties.

Her research of healthy communities and food systems planning is one in which Raja collaborates with Buffalo's Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) and the west side community it serves to study ways to build and strengthen sustainable food systems in the city of Buffalo. In 2005, MAP won a national award from the American Association of Certified Planners (AICP).

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.

Founded in 2001 by a consortium of the region's premier research, clinical care, and academic institutions, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the cultivation of a world-class medical campus for clinical care, research, education, and entrepreneurship on 100 acres in downtown Buffalo.

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