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City Planners Need To Step Up

There are many reasons why modern people are fatter on average than ever in history. For instance, food has become less and less natural. In the last century we’ve gone from having fresh milk delivered to our doors, to chemically-treated milk that is shipped from God knows where. Corporate food sources.

People used to walk to their neighborhood grocer or produce stand that was supplied by local mom and pop farmers. Now food travels across the country – even the globe – before it gets to your dinner table. It doesn’t stay fresh by magic. It has to be preserved for a longer shelf life.

Then there is the “dilemma” of modern conveniences. What did people do before computers, phones, and televisions? If it wasn’t engaging friends and family in conversation, or reading a book, they were probably tending to responsibilities that included physical work outside the home.

Modernization comes with all kinds of wonderful amenities, but it’s often at the expense of our health. How we address our national health care needs is a political debate for another time and forum. But nobody can argue with the philosophy that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

One such preventable measure is zoning cities to be “walkable” again. People still need to want to be active, but if you present them the ability to get around by foot (and gas costs going through the roof), you can hope that they learn the good old fashion art of putting one foot in front of the other.

“Any city built in the 1800s is likely to be walkable because everyone who lived there walked. Cities like Boston, Manhattan, Washington D.C., inner Baltimore, Savannah, Charleston, are all very walkable,” says Jim Sallis of San Diego State University.

One West coast exception is Portland, Oregon where the city has long been pedestrian-friendly.

The moral of the story is that a public investment can make a world of difference in the health of its citizenry.

May 8th, 2008

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