Monday, January 23, 2012

Designing Healthy Communities

It's great to see the health community grab onto the idea of designing livability and walkability into our surroundings and promote it as fundamental component of a healthy society. As part of that growing movement, PBS is airing a four-part series this winter and spring that will explore all the interconnections between health and our built environment in great detail. For those of us in the AETN viewshed, we'll get to see two of the segments on Sunday, February 12, and the other two on Sunday, February 19. They'll run from 12:30-2:30 p.m. on both days.

A preview:

Episode 1: Retrofitting Suburbia (preview all episodes here) from MPC on Vimeo.

Thinking about what the health community alone has built here in central Arkansas over the last few years reveals no shortage of opportunities for improved walkability. Yes, they got together and made the Medical Mile happen in the River Market area a while back, but the actual campuses of ACH, UAMS, St. Vincent, Baptist, and others represent the polar opposite of healthy living. Despite their urban locations the planners decided to develop all of the campuses under the outdated suburban model in which the vast majority of people working there have to drive. The car-centric, blank glass-walled form that dominates our hospitals discourages healthy lifestyles and runs completely counter to the amazing work happening inside. When the leaders of those institutions recognize the direct link between their missions and the physical design and layout of their campuses, not to mention the interface/connections to their surrounding neighborhoods, we will see a revolutionary transformation. Instead of a moat of parking lots 'buffering' a children's hospital from the neighborhood it sits in, we'll see a safe, people-centric place that encourage interaction and contributes to the revitalization of a neglected part of the city. And instead of a high-speed five lane road separating our state's medical school from its neighbors, we'll see an attractive human-scaled street that promotes walking. Obesity, diabetes, traffic crashes, and violence are some of the biggest health epidemics facing people today, and the way in which we've chosen to build our cities, towns, and the places within exacerbates (causes?) all of them. It's time to change.

And in the mean time, tune in to AETN on the 12th and 19th to see what the folks who created Designing Healthy Communities have to say about it.

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