sustainable and healthy communities

Stepping it Up: Embracing The Surgeon General’s Call to Action for Walkable Communities

 

By Kathy Sykes

Close up of legs and feet walking on cobble stone.

Walkability can be an important aspect of a healthy, sustainable community.

The first steps I took when I was young soon opened the door to my independence and later my first run. Most of us take walking for granted—until it is no longer easy. Luckily, my parents chose Madison, Wisconsin to raise me and my siblings, in a beautiful and walkable neighborhood. The places we frequented on foot left an indelible memory—the Arboretum, Picnic Point (my favorite!), the duck pond, and Vilas Zoo. From pre-school to graduate school, we could go practically anywhere on foot.

A short distance from our home there was a grocery store, bakery, pharmacy, ice cream shop, and dentist. Walking another direction from home I passed the Friends Meeting House, a pet store, a hardware store, a bank, and a mailbox—everything needed was steps away.

When I moved to Washington, D.C. to start my career, I sought a similar neighborhood that did not require a car. While I arrived in DC prior to the creation of Walk Score, I selected a walkable community. Walk Score is a tool that ranks the walkability of a place on a scale from zero (“Must Have a Car”) to 100 (“Walker’s Paradise”).

I grew up in a “very walkable” neighborhood (walk score of 84) and live in one now (walk score 82). While walkability is critical, other attributes matter too, such as the extent of tree canopy cover available to shade the sidewalks on a hot summer day, traffic patterns, how local storm water is managed, and air quality. As a senior advisor working in EPA’s sustainable and healthy communities research program, I work with scientists, engineers, and other experts illuminating those attributes that add up to a healthy environment and how important they are for our own well-being.

One of my tasks as an appointee of the Mayor’s Age-Friendly DC Taskforce was to lead walking audits. Together with individuals of all ages and abilities we documented the absence and conditions of sidewalks, intersection visibility and safety, the presence of curb cuts, and whether individuals with a slow gait had sufficient time to cross. Finally, were benches present to rest or wait for a bus?

Image of Surgeon General at a podium during the "Step it Up!" launch.

Step it Up!

That kind of work is what led to an invitation to represent EPA at the official launch of “Step it Up!”—the Surgeon General’s call to action to promote walking and walkable communities.

Mobility can be a challenge from very early, later in life, or throughout life. It is up us to make changes to ensure that we all can enjoy the independence, health, and environmental benefits of walking.

The Surgeon General has it right: a walk is as good as a hit. In my opinion, his Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities is a home run.

About the Author: EPA’s Kathy Sykes has been “Stepping it Up” to advance sustainability and healthy communities for more than a decade. She is an expert in issues related to aging in place.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Along the Road to Sustainability

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership. 

By Bob Perciasepe

Bob Perciasepe official portraitTechnology and open access to data and tools have ended the excruciating choice that generations of unsure car travelers have sometimes faced: forge ahead just a few more miles, or stop and ask for directions? Such stress has largely faded with the advent of dashboard-mounted, satellite-enabled navigation systems and readily available smartphone applications.

Getting to your desired destination is always easier when you have the right information at your disposal. That’s why today I’m excited to announce that EPA has released a tool to help environmental decision makers and local communities navigate toward a more sustainable future: EnviroAtlas.

Read the rest of the post. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Sister Blog: EPA Seeking Feedback on Beta Tool to Address Community Environmental Issues

(Reposted from EPA’s Environmental Justice in Action Blog.)

By Dr. Valerie Zartarian and Dr. Andrew Geller

Communities and individuals are faced with exposure to many different kinds of pollution, like lead, air pollution, water pollution, and toxics in fish. People want to understand their health risks and how to prevent them. As communities move to protect their neighborhoods, the issues can seem too numerous, with too few experts and limited access to information that can limit meaningful involvement.

In EPA’s Office of Research and Development we are designing the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST) and related research to address these challenges. C-FERST is being developed to increase the availability and accessibility of science and data for evaluating impacts of pollutants and local conditions, ranking risks, and understanding the environmental health consequences of your community. (Keep reading at Environmental Justice in Action.)

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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