Making Communities Healthier

Stephanie WeberThe other day I was talking to another parent who is getting ready to move from our Virginia community—which is still very much car-dependent--to a small, bicycle-friendly town in the Midwest. She’s lived here all her life, and as she talked about her future home, she talked about how impressed she was that she saw so many people walking and bicycling around town, even though it was “numbingly cold.” I could hear the excitement in her voice, and I realize that this is what so many of us are striving for – communities where people feel comfortable (and excited) to walk or bicycle, regardless of the weather.

As we near the end of “Public Health Month” and enter “Bike Month,” I thought about this friend, and how she will benefit in ways she can’t currently imagine by moving her family to this community where they can easily walk to their schools, to restaurants and stores near their new home.  And of course, I am so tempted to point out to her the growing volumes of material showing the inter-connectedness between the built environment, our health and the health of our communities. But I recognize not everyone finds that level of detail as exciting as I do.

In the National Partnership’s April e-news, I shared links to stories in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. on how these cities strive to become more livable and sustainable. Our Bay Area Regional Policy Manager, Marty Martinez, shared in his recent blog how the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the nine-county Bay Area’s MPO, is factoring research on health impacts into their transportation planning.

One of our main goals with the regional network project is to work with select metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to include and strengthen active transportation elements in their regional transportation plans (RTPs).  RTPs, traditionally, have emphasized efficiency, safety, economic development and environmental conditions as key elements. While I do not yet have scientific validation on this observation, I am routinely seeing health as a major goal included in the development and revision of RTPs across the country. And that’s a trend that is good news for all of us.