Implications of construction method and spatial scale on measures of the built environment
Strominger, Julie; Anthopolos, Rebecca; Miranda, Marie L
Abstract Background Research surrounding the built environment (BE) and health has resulted in inconsistent findings. Experts have identified the need to examine methodological choices, such as development and testing of BE indices at varying spatial scales. We sought to examine the impact of construction method and spatial scale on seven measures of the BE using data collected at two time points. Methods The Children’s Environmental Health Initiative conducted parcel-level assessments of 57 BE variables in Durham, NC (parcel N = 30,319). Based on a priori defined variable groupings, we constructed seven mutually exclusive BE domains (housing damage, property disorder, territoriality, vacancy, public nuisances, crime, and tenancy). Domain-based indices were developed according to four different index construction methods that differentially account for number of parcels and parcel area. Indices were constructed at the census block level and two alternative spatial scales that better depict the larger neighborhood context experienced by local residents: the primary adjacency community and secondary adjacency community. Spearman’s rank correlation was used to assess if indices and relationships among indices were preserved across methods. Results Territoriality, public nuisances, and tenancy were weakly to moderately preserved across methods at the block level while all other indices were well preserved. Except for the relationships between public nuisances and crime or tenancy, and crime and housing damage or territoriality, relationships among indices were poorly preserved across methods. The number of indices affected by construction method increased as spatial scale increased, while the impact of construction method on relationships among indices varied according to spatial scale. Conclusions We found that the impact of construction method on BE measures was index and spatial scale specific. Operationalizing and developing BE measures using alternative methods at varying spatial scales before connecting to health outcomes allows researchers to better understand how methodological decisions may affect associations between health outcomes and BE measures. To ensure that associations between the BE and health outcomes are not artifacts of methodological decisions, researchers would be well-advised to conduct sensitivity analysis using different construction methods. This approach may lead to more robust results regarding the BE and health outcomes.