Citizens of Salt Lake City Utah have carried on a love-hate relationship with their often quirky and opinionated mayor, but Ralph Becker knows one thing continues to put his city on the map and that is the mass improvements his administration has made in walk-ability. He says in just a few years, the city changed nearly 150 codes and ordinances to simply get out of their own way in creating a better urban experience. Men’s Health magazine recently ranked the capital city the “fittest city” in the country based on research of several communities. Becker, a former city planner turned mayor doesn’t drive to the office each morning, instead he insists that no matter the conditions he is to ride his bike. From supporting policies that encourage physical activity to helping raise funds to construct over 200 miles of bike lanes, 50 miles of bike trails and nearly 50 miles of walking trails, connecting the people to the city is just a step in improving the quality of life for residents. It could be all of these features that helped land him in the position of president of the National League of Cities in 2015.
From the experience and exponential growth one city in the inter mountain west to today’s announcement from the Surgeon General, you can see how our country is taking quality of life and health seriously in regards to urban design. Step It Up is the call from our Surgeon General to promote physical activity and walk-able communities. Citing several alarming health statistics, such as the fact that nearly 50% of all Americans are living with a chronic disease makes anyone want to spend more time creating a stronger focus on walk-ability and physical activity. One statistic shows us that adults should at least get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week and calling cities to provide this option is a necessary must for our country to take shape. The plan outlines five strategic goals that will help it measure success in the coming years for communities across the country.
Goal One: Make Walking A National Priority.
*Encourage people to promote walking and make their communities walk-able.
*Create a national walking movement to make walking and walk-ability a priority.
Goal Two: The government is asking all planners, designers and communities to create places that make it safe and easy to walk for people of all ages and abilities.
*Design and maintain streets and sidewalks so that walking is safe and easy
*Design communities that support safe and easy places for people to walk
Goal Three: Promote Walking and offer programs and policies to support walking where people live.
*Promote programs and policies that make it easy for students to walk before, during and after school.
*Promote work-site programs and policies that support walking and walk-ability.
*Promote community programming and policies that make it safe and easy for residents to walk rather than commute.
Goal Four: Provide information to encourage walking and improve walk-ability in our communities, no matter the size.
*Educate all communities about the benefits of safe walking and places to walk.
*Develop effective and consistent messages and engage the media to promote walking and walk-ability.
*Educate relevant professionals on how to promote walking and walk-ability through their professions.
Goal Five: Fill surveillance, research, and evaluation gaps related to walking and walk-ability.
*Improve the quality and consistence of surveillance data collected about walking and walk-ability.
*Address research gaps to promote walking and walk-ability.
*Evaluate community interventions to promote walking and walk-ability.
The Surgeon General calls out developments and urban designers in his Step It Up report saying that many communities that are being designed can present barriers to walking, such as everyday destinations being located too far from home. A push for public transit also comes along in the report in saying that people are more likely to walk when they use public transportation and the lack of an adequate system may mean that opportunities are lost. Benefits to creating walk-able communities also can be of economic value. Walk-able communities often are attractive places for businesses to locate which will continue to help drive local economies. Community and street design policies are recommended to aide in the increase of physical activity. The Step It Up report asks that urban designers begin looking at ways to locate residences within short walking distances of stores, work-sites, public transportation, essential services, and schools via connection of sidewalks and paths that are well-connected, safe and attractive. Designers must also look at improving street lighting and enhancing street landscaping to reduce traffic speeds. Complete Street programs will be fast tracked across the country as the report also demands transportation and travel policies that create or enhance pedestrian and bicycle networks, subsidize public transit systems and more.
As an architecture and urban design firm that is committed to improving the quality of life in our communities, we already encourage and look to incorporate the ideas from the Surgeon General’s Step It Up report. Hoch Associates looks from transportation and urban design to streetscape enhancements, healthcare, wellness facilities and more that each one of our projects are designed with walkability in mind. We believe that many of our communities already offer great public parks and fitness centers, but why not increase this momentum and opportunity with expanded walking and biking paths, neighborhood activity areas, pocket parks and recreation zones. If we can take a page from the success of Salt Lake City or nearby DayBreak community and look at this as a way to enhance our own neighborhoods, it can only be a positive outcome. Our goal is to provide better access from schools and neighborhoods to vibrant community centers, creating walk-able campuses in master planning and putting an emphasis in better urban design. The news from the Surgeon General has found a welcoming home and we are excited to create the next generation of cities, ones that people don’t mind taking a walk in.