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Pediatricians Supporting Walkability, Parks

The American Academy of Pediatrics is out with a policy statement in support of a built environment that provides children the opportunity for adequate levels of physical activity. Here’s the abstract:

An estimated 32% of American children are overweight, and physical inactivity contributes to this high prevalence of overweight. This policy statement highlights how the built environment of a community affects children’s opportunities for physical activity. Neighborhoods and communities can provide opportunities for recreational physical activity with parks and open spaces, and policies must support this capacity. Children can engage in physical activity as a part of their daily lives, such as on their travel to school. Factors such as school location have played a significant role in the decreased rates of walking to school, and changes in policy may help to increase the number of children who are able to walk to school. Environment modification that addresses risks associated with automobile traffic is likely to be conducive to more walking and biking among children. Actions that reduce parental perception and fear of crime may promote outdoor physical activity. Policies that promote more active lifestyles among children and adolescents will enable them to achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. By working with community partners, pediatricians can participate in establishing communities designed for activity and health.

In the last few years, the public health community has increasingly embraced the idea of smart growth and a walkable built environment to allow increased physical activity. We’re now seeing this spread into the larger medical field to groups such as pediatricians here. More an more, the ideas are working their way into the mainstream.

Turning Times Square into a Pedestrian Square

The New York City Department of Transportation is undertaking an experiment to close parts of Broadway that traverse Times Square, and started this on Memorial Day. So far, lots of people out on the new public spaces and no significant traffic problems. (See article and video) For cities looking to create more space for the public to gather, one possibility is to look at retaking the already existing places that have been given over to cars.

Integrated Parks and Physical Activity

An article in the Montreal Gazette covers the relationship of neighborhood design and physical activity and makes an important note on parks:

It isn’t just the importance we place on the car that sets us up for unwanted weight gain. Most modern neighbourhoods discourage outdoor play. Small neighbourhood parks have been replaced with large community parks and pitches that are too far away for kids to safely walk or ride their bikes. And a poorly planned network of streets and the popularity of fences discourage kids from running through lanes or backyards to call on a friend. Instead they are forced to travel by car or ask Mom or Dad to accompany them to destinations they should be able to navigate on their own.

….Friedman suggested that communities should build sidewalks and that parks and play areas be located closer to homes for easier access. For these ideas to be realized, local governments have to rethink the way they design our communities. Urban planning should include ways to promote physical activity instead of encouraging a sedentary lifestyle.

With suburban sprawl and suburban office parks, cities have also turned to suburban-style parks. Merely providing parks does not encourage physical activity. A community sports facility may just be a place where people gather for that Monday softball league or their kids’ soccer game. But if parks are integrated into the city they are far more likely to be integrated into daily life so that residents can be more active.

Mapping the New Transportation Bill

This year a newly authorized transportation bill could include more attention to transit and other forms of transportation such as walking and biking. This could mean more resources for urban trails, bike facilities and the like.

Elana Schor at Streetsblog.org gives a good rundown of the process by which a new transportation bill will go through to become law. In addition, Transportation for America has rolled out a website called My Commute Sucks, which contains a petition and testimonials section for visitors to explain how….well, the title of the website seems to hint at this.

News from around…..

  • Toledo, Ohio budget situation dire, Mayor asking residents to mow grass in parks, volunteers own time – NPR blog post and radio story (including interview with Mayor).
  • Cleveland envisions a public-space oriented waterfront. (Plain-Dealer)
  • The Times wonders about Car-less Suburbs Coming to America — a Bicycle City seems to be in the works already.
  • Tussle over a new recreation center in an existing park in Reston, Virginia. (Wash. Post)