Is your neighborhood conducive to good health? Wherever you live or work, are you able to get to parks, trails, town centers or playgrounds? Can you get there without a car?
Increasingly, more communities across the country are asking these and more questions as they seek ways to encourage residents to be more active and improve their overall health.
Earlier this year, the Colorado Health Foundation launched Healthy Places, a five-year, $4.5 million initiative grounded in the idea that the design of the built environment can have a crucial and positive influence on improving public health by increasing physical activity.
During the first phase of Healthy Places, the Foundation selected three communities to participate in an advisory panel process with the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization which focuses on the use of land in order to enhance the total environment.
From March until May 2013, experts from ULI will spend a week in selected communities, assessing ways to enhance physical connections and encouraging more walking, biking and playing. The ULI panels will tour the areas, interview residents, business and property owners, city staff, elected officials and others and make recommendations on how to make the communities healthier and more focused on active living. Communities that complete the panel process will have the opportunity to apply for funding to implement their plans.
The Denver suburb of Arvada was the first of the three selected communities to participate. For the purpose of the Healthy Living initiative, the city of Arvada and its partners identified a small pocket of Arvada which had the most significant barriers to healthy living.
The other two communities, Lamar, a small town in Colorado's eastern plains and Westwood, a dense urban neighborhood in Denver will host ULI Panels in April and May of 2013 respectively.
Arvada's ULI Panel included several developers, an architect, a transportation planner, a specialist in downtown revitalization, and two experts in public health and active design. The panel found that Arvada is already a leader in developing parks, bike trails and other pedestrian facilities. Regardless, building a health-conscious community requires a long-term, strategic vision.
In Arvada and elsewhere, physical activity has been designed out of residents' daily routines. In the past century, desk jobs replaced manual labor, driving to destinations usurped walking and biking, elevators and escalators supplanted stair climbing, and TV and computer games displaced outdoor recreation (especially among children). Meanwhile, the design of our buildings and neighborhoods often makes physical activity unnatural or difficult.
Rather than telling people to go to the gym or to eat healthier food, the panel encouraged Arvada to seek opportunities to build exercise into citizens' daily routines by enhancing its unique set of assets. For example, Arvada has charming and walkable old town, three new transit stations and a network of linear parks and bike trails. The suburb's proximity to Denver and other major employment centers and its healthy fiscal condition are also factors in its favor.
Learn more about the panel's recommendations for Arvada in this report. After taking the panel's recommendations into consideration, Arvadans will have the opportunity to apply for additional Healthy Places funding to implement plans to better their community. In the meantime, stay tuned for Healthy Places developments in Arvada and elsewhere in the weeks and months to come.
Getting back to my original question, is your neighborhood conducive to good health? Whether you're from Arvada or another part of Colorado, what are your community's assets and liabilities in encouraging a healthy population? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.