Your town might keep you from meeting your New Year's resolution
By HealthConnect Fellow Mike Armstrong, director of planning and communications at the Street Collective
It’s New Year’s resolution time, when we think about eating healthier, exercising more, being a bit kinder or less stressed, and generally looking at self-improvement. And yet, a voice keeps saying, “Take a skip day from healthy eating. You don’t have time for the gym today.” What you may not realize is that voice is often coming from your neighborhood, streets, and community.
Take a look at the image above.
One of these residential streets has a speeding problem: Can you tell which one? This is not a matter of one neighborhood being full of conscientious drivers and the other home to adrenaline-junkies. Our streets and neighborhoods are often designed to enable all the wrong behaviors.
Shorter, more active commutes, neighborhood walks, family bike rides. These are activities proven to make people healthier, wealthier, and happier. But when we step back and look at the design of our communities, no wonder so many of us consistently choose the less healthy option.
About 40,000 people die in car crashes each year. 1 in 3 Americans have had a friend or relative seriously injured or killed in a car crash. Physical inactivity and related chronic disease rates are at all time highs and reaching epidemic levels. 1 in 3 US children are overweight or obese. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic disease are increasing.
We consistently recognize that speeding is dangerous, but still do it on a daily basis. We consistently recognize that physical inactivity is a serious problem, but we still drive hours each day, even for very short trips.
This is not because we think these issues don’t matter. It’s because we have the worst possible enabler over our shoulder: a street, a neighborhood, and a community designed for physical inactivity, speeding, and traffic. Communities designed to make it difficult, uncomfortable, and in some cases, impossible to walk, bike, or ride the bus. Communities designed to try and save 2 minutes on your morning commute at the expense of your community’s health.
Our individual choices matter, but this also includes our choices of how our streets and neighborhoods are designed.
So, let’s make a commitment to meeting our New Year’s resolution this year. Every time your community talks about its streets and neighborhoods, think about this: What would help us all be a bit healthier and happier?
And maybe then we can turn that enabling voice into an empowering voice.