Greenway Design and Planning for Healthy Communities: Case Study of Knoxville

Yilin Shi


Greenway design and planning have become a multi-functional, multi-objective approach to address social, cultural and ecological concerns. Traditional greenway design and planning have focused more on ecological, historic and recreational values. However, the current focus of greenway planning is also shifting to community health, which includes both physical health and emotional health. This thesis focuses on physical health. The concern arises out of observations on obesity and physical inactivity as two of the most serious health problems in the United States which greatly threaten the quality of life in the country. Greenways can help address the issues of obesity and poor quality of life in communities by providing an opportunity for outdoor recreation, alternative transportation such as walking and biking thus increasing the level of physical activity, and preventing obesity.

Research has shown that greenway location relative to one’s home influences how a greenway was used, who used it, and how often it was used. Spatial proximity of greenways to the residential communities will increase greenway use. Greenways have been shown to be a popular location of physical activity. The positive relationship between physical activity and health has also been verified by various studies. Building on these current studies, this thesis proposes to improve the connections between greenways and communities for the purpose of increasing the level of physical activity, and ultimately improving community health.

Tennessee, as well as Knoxville, has a very high level of obesity and physical inactivity. The 2008 Knox County Physical Activity Survey found that walking trails are the most popular locations for physical activity. However, Knoxville has a deficiency in parklands and greenways, and many communities do not have greenways within walking distance. There is an urgent need to increase the number of greenways and their accessibility to communities. This thesis (a) reviews the history of greenway planning and various benefits associated with greenways; (b) studies health conditions in Knoxville city; (c) proposes connections between greenways and communities building on Knoxville’s greenway plan and making critiques and recommendations; and (d) explores design solutions for a greenway in a selected focus - the Lonsdale neighborhood - with an emphasis on community health.