"The way we design and build our communities can affect our physical and mental health. Healthy community design integrates evidence-based health strategies into community planning, transportation, and land-use decisions."Those aren't my words. They're from the US Centers for Disease Control
, explaining the idea behind the CDC's Healthy Community Design initiative
. I'm thinking a great deal about healthy places after a business trip this week to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota. I knew of Minneapolis's reputation as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in America. But, I had no idea just how much that health-conscious mentality pervades the city's culture. Indeed, the trails and greenways are everywhere -- transecting downtowns and outlying communities, circling lakes, and paralleling rivers. More than 100 miles of trails by last count. But, equally impressive was the plethora of dining choices based on fresh ingredients and healthy food choices. Even, in the airport, the usual fast food fare was obscured by places offering up uniquely nutritious choices. Despite winter's bitter embrace, you could feel the good health vibrations pulsing through this city.Small wonder people are taking notice. In May of 2011, the American College of Sports Medicine designated Minneapolis-St Paul as the fittest cities in America, based on its American Fitness Index. That measure considers factors such as
the percentage of residents who smoke, obesity rates, percentage of people who exercise, and availability of parks, walking trails and farmers' markets.You can read more about the rankings and what sets the Twin Cities apart in USA Today and Forbes.
American businesses have taken note as well, with more than 70 major corporations and 18 Fortune 500 corporations headquartered in the Twin Cities and the surrounding metropolitan area.How have these northern communities in the harshest of climates made such a serious commitment to outdoor recreation and fitness, while cities in the far more hospitable south seem to remain unconvinced?
Small wonder that national statistics on health and obesity-related illnesses consistently show the southern states falling to the bottom.It's the place that matters. Not just the natural gifts of where we are, but the man-made environment we create. When we place no value on recreation, good food, and fitness, we put no importance on our health or that of our children.
To change that, we need passion, enthusiasm, and committed leadership like you'll here in the video below.
Chances are, our Founding Fathers would have found much to like about the bicycle. For, after all, what other invention since the birth of our nation has done more to preserve those inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? To ensure life, one must start with health. And, no mode of transportation is more health-preserving than riding a bicycle.
Liberty? Anyone who rode a bike as a child remembers the instant freedom you felt riding away from home, around the the block, and off to some friend's house or the corner 7-11. And, these days, commuting or running errands by bicycle means freedom from dependence on foreign oil lords.It seems they can even show that happiness shines brightest on those who put their mettle to the pedal for
their daily commute. Or, at least that's what The Atlantic
Senior Editor Richard Florida found when looking at the correlation between the frequency of cycling in major metro areas and other quality of life or health factors. You can read his work here
.With Independence Day just around the corner, we could well declare that safe places to pursue our life, liberty, and happiness are fundamental to who we are as a nation.
I received an email this week with an interesting link to a pro-bike story from an unlikely source (someone on record opposing a rails-to-trails project in Newton County). And, I enjoyed the piece so much, I wanted to share it with readers of the Trail Talk Blog
.In The Real Reason Why Bicycles Are the Key to Better Cities, Kasey Klimes sets aside typical talking points promoting cycling -- such as public health, economic impact, or environmental
conservation. Instead, he writes about the very different intimacy one experiences biking through a city vs passing in a car."
On a bicycle, citizens experience their city with deep intimacy, often for the first time, Klimes writes. "For a regular motorist to take that two or three mile trip by bicycle instead is to decimate an enormous wall between them and their communities."For me, he nailed the one aspect of biking (and walking, for that matter) I have never managed to explain clearly to a non-cyclist. And, I would expand his assertion to include not just cities, but
the suburbs and rural countryside as well. I often tell people I am not from Newton County, but I feel I know this place with an intimacy unknown to many born and raised here. To travel through the towns and rural farmlands of Newton County by bike is to see, hear, feel, smell, and (almost) taste this place. I've found old home places at the end of dirt roads off the end of other dirt roads that most people don't know exist. I've had close encounters with life both wild and domestic. My wife is a native born of multiple generations in this county, but I tell her about roads she could never find on a map or in a car.Traveling by bike is also a trip into the past. You experience the landscape at a pace and with an immediacy seldom felt since we started wrapping ourselves in cocoons of steel, plastic, glass, and leather before making any journey. You get to see people, hear people, and talk to people. While perhaps not physically, in many ways you touch and are touched back by those you meet along the way. A wave, a smile, a friendly greeting, and sometimes a real conversation. These are gifts seldom if ever found from the confines of an automobile.I wonder, sometimes, if that allure for me is also what repels others? Is eye contact such a rarity these days, that much of our society is now fearful of it?
Are we so isolated from nature in the 21st century, that the idea of being out there with only a bike frame and skinny rubber tires between us and Mother Earth is a frightening prospect?It both hurts and frustrates me when I realize how sincerely some "old-timers" fear and loathe those of us who want to see more places to walk and bike in our community. I know in my heart that I love this place as they do. It is a deep, knowing love born of special moments spent up close and personal, immersed through a bike ride in
to the natural, cultural, and human splendor of Newton County, Georgia. My relationship with this place is meaningful to me, because of the time invested in "getting to know each other."Thank you, Nat Harwell, for sending me the link. And, thank you, Kasey Klimes, for bringing me back fully to some really special memories of treasured moments.Dear readers, if you haven't ridden a bike lately and are capable, get out and give it a try. You'll be amazed by the wonders laying ever beneath our noses!