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Healthy Communities Are No Accident

2011 April 8

By John W. Frece

Would you simply like to be able to walk from your home to the store? Or, to the doctor’s office? Is it easy – or difficult — to cross busy streets in your neighborhood? Are there sidewalks where you live? Or, do you have to rely on a car to go anywhere?

A recent report by AARP found that 40% of persons 50 and older say their neighborhoods lack adequate sidewalks. Nearly half — 47% — feel it is unsafe to cross streets near their homes. And about half of those who reported problems in their neighborhoods said if these safety factors were fixed, they would bike, walk or take the bus to meet their needs.

The good news is that many of the obstacles to creating more walkable communities can be fixed.

I have been working for more than a decade on public policy at the state and federal level to help local governments build infrastructure so that our streets, sidewalks, homes and transportation projects do a better job protecting public health and the environment. As Director of EPA’s the Office of Sustainable Communities — part of the President’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities — we have learned that healthy communities do not happen by accident, but are designed intentionally. In partnership with DOT and HUD, our three agencies have adopted a set of principles that specifically support existing communities, in part by providing them with more choices in transportation and housing. Our office offers a wealth of publications to help communities become smarter about how – and where – they build.

A growing number of communities have begun to adopt complete street policies. Transportation planners and engineers employ complete streets policies to ensure that roadways are designed in ways that support all potential users — bicyclists, pedestrians of all ages and abilities, public transportation riders, as well as cars.

That’s because there is a direct correlation between how we design the transportation networks in our communities and public health and safety. This year’s theme for National Public Health week — “Safety is no Accident” – recognizes the importance of designing options into the built environment.

Designing our built environment with a focus on connecting us with the places we frequent – shops, health care, parks, grocers, entertainment — can make it easier for us to make the healthy choice of getting around by foot or bike. And this can make all the difference.

About the author: John W. Frece is the Director of the Office of Sustainable Communities, within the Office of Policy at EPA. The Office of Sustainable Communities represents EPA in its Partnership for Sustainable Communities with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Diana permalink
    April 8, 2011

    I absulutely understand the issues with complete streets, at one point our communities were built in such rush and standards had changed so much that individuals were left out of the design. The result: spaces for vehicles and no sidewalk or bike walks provided, no compact communtities so eveyone has to take a vehicle to go to the closest store to buy simple things as milk or bread.
    In Southwest Florida, we are taking the inititive to create a checklist so this does not happen anymore; a complete street approach. We are also “Taking it to the Streets”, a five county regional exploration of a full range of transportation choices – a ‘Transportation Transformation’ campaign. Transportation events and activities will happen from April 13th to the 23rd.
    We hope to obtain enough data from this campaign to shape the needs of our communities and to prove that all individuals have a role in the built environment and that our individual choices can improve our communtities.

  2. Emily K permalink
    April 8, 2011

    I am glad to hear the EPA is working with agencies like HUD & DOT to make communities and cities more sustainable for people to walk/bike in. One of the reasons I love DC is because you are able to walk safely on sidewalks anywhere in the city. Also back at my school at Indiana University the campus is accessible for both walkers and bikers, which makes it easier to go to class & feel safe. Growing up in the suburbs of Northern Indiana I was thankful to have wide roads in my neighborhood and a trail that led around Indianapolis. I don’t know what I would have done as a child if I wasn’t allowed to walk safely around my neighborhood.
    Making areas more sustainable will help the environment with less people driving, make people more active and make neighborhoods & cities more attractive which will build income over time.

  3. Joaquim Trindade da Silva permalink
    April 9, 2011

    Parabéns pelo artigo publicado.O Homem terá de defender o ambiente.

  4. newport beach houses permalink
    April 9, 2011

    In my country, many people always walk to every where very day

  5. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    April 10, 2011

    Complete streets is of critical importance to seniors and members of the disability community. In Orange County, we have some cities like Mission Viejo that are working on making all their streets complete streets with well constructed lage sidewalks, , easy to cross streets, accessible bus stops, bike lanes. Other cities, like some of the beach cities, have narrow sidewalks that requires wheelchair users to get out in the street because the sidewalk is to narrow, lack of wheelchair cuts in the sidewalks is a problem in some of these cities, and in some of their neighborhood, the houses and property lines are so near the street that no sidewalks were ever built. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  6. Linda permalink
    April 11, 2011

    I enjoy walking where and when I can … which isn’t often when I’m at home: I live on a dirt road in a very rural area. Though the posted speed limit is low, many drivers ignore it; there is not much of a shoulder (or it’s grown up with brush), so you walk in the road or not at all. The closest stores are 6 to 10 miles away. Luckily, I pass by all of them on my way to and from work, so I don’t have to make special trips into town just for the basics – I can pick those up on the way home.

    I am glad to see communities addressing the challenges of making certain their communities are accesible by people who cannot or choose not to drive. Those solutions will not be the total answer, but they will be a great help to those who chose to live in town.

  7. Meal program permalink
    October 4, 2011

    The American Journal of Physiology has published the results of a study in which participants were allowed to eat high protein foods, while a second study group was given supplements equal to the recommended daily allowance. Surprisingly, the group that ate protein was the ones that lost the most weight.

  8. July 27, 2012

    I was never really aware of the activities of EPA until one of mu cousin’s started talking about sustainable communities. Your post has given me valuable information and i certainly agree now that healthy communities do not happen by accident but are designed so intentionally. This all totally makes sense.

  9. bizworldusa permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Walking is the best way to fit our body.Now a days people become lazy even they want go to next street also they uses bikes etc.. people should take care about their health by doing small excersizes like morning walks.

    Thank you for sharing..

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