Sunday, November 1, 2015

Walking & Sidewalks in a Time of Obesity

With apologies to Gabriel García Márquez.

Obesity is our modern day cholera. It's slowly killing people. Perhaps worse, it's lowering the quality of living for individuals & communities. 

That's why it's so disappointing to learn about the sidewalk waiver provided to a developer earlier this week. There's been a tremendous amount of progress in downtown Springdale. From the re-commitment of Tyson Foods (no relation, sadly) to place 300 new employees downtown to their giving $1 million to the Downtown Springfield Alliance to connecting the Razorback Greenway trail system & more. 

Obesity in America so bad, it's risen to the point of a priority of the Surgeon General.   
Arkansas is the most obese state in the nation. And we're waiving sidewalks - the one thing that makes it easier, not to mention safer, for people to walk. 
Purple shows the three most obese states. We can't even say 'Thank God for MS or WV"

Sidewalk waivers fly in the face of the Surgeon General's recommendations to address obesity is:
Design and maintain streets and sidewalks so that walking is safe and easy.
  • Design streets, sidewalks, and crosswalks that encourage walking for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Improve traffic safety on streets and sidewalks.
  • Keep existing sidewalks and other places to walk free from hazards.
Design communities that support safe and easy places for people to walk.
  • Adopt community planning, land use, development, and zoning policies and plans that support walking for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Locate schools, worksites, businesses, parks, recreational facilities, and other places that people regularly use within walkable distance of each other.
  • Support safe, efficient, and easy-to-use public transit systems and transit-oriented development.
Community development and community revitalization are holistic undertakings. Public health is not disconnected from community development. We can't (or at least shouldn't) complain about the growing costs of health care when we continue to undermine our own best self-interests and further disconnect our citizens from their neighbors, schools and commercial districts. Sure, personal responsibility plays a significant role, but it is maddening when public official disregard well-established best practice and stop being advocates for neighbors & become advocates for developers. Worse, the costs for sidewalk construction is pretty cheap. From today's DG:

"A sidewalk for most houses that aren't on corner lots would be 80 feet long and 5 feet wide, said Lupe Garcia, co-owner of Garcia's Excavating and Elite Concrete Services in Springdale. That's 400 square feet of sidewalk, which would cost about $1,200 in labor and material. A sidewalk for the same type of house on a corner lot would cost more than twice as much."

Our love today is with the cheap and the short term. It's with providing exceptions in the name of 'growth'. Unfortunately that growth is often one of the waistline. Sidewalks  are the lowest hanging fruit of building strong, loveable neighborhoods. Beyond promoting walkability, they enhance your opportunities to interact with your neighbors. This promotes a community spirit and can even help with crime deterrence by enhancing those communication opportunities as well as street activity.  Moreover, they are usually paid for by the developer - unless waivers are granted. The DG also points out nearby Fayetteville & Rogers don't provide sidewalk waivers. We should particularly take note of Fayetteville as it's done quite a few things right in recent months. 

As a state we endorse these benefits, at least on paper. From the Health Active Arkansas plan

5. State, county and local policy makers will create incentives to encourage denser, more walkable communities and multi-use developments.
a. Create a statewide award similar to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification or Active Community Environments (ACE) philosophy that is based on healthy community “livability” 2 YRS
Partners: Local leaders, ArCOP, community members, chambers of commerce, ADPT

But these are recommendations, not law. Local communities get to make their own decisions, even when they go against the best interest of the citizens. I hope we follow our own established best practice & recommendations in the future and this is the last sidewalk waiver we see in our state 

Step It Up! Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities

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