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Walk This Way
Places that discriminate against walking feed the national obesity epidemic. How can designers turn things around?
By Andrea Oppenheimer Dean

The doc [Surgeon General Richard Carmona] and I are going to encourage all our country to either run or walk or swim or bicycle, for the good of their families, for the good of their own health, and for the good of the health of the nation.” That was President George W. Bush announcing his “Healthier U.S.” initiative last year. It recommends that Americans incorporate 30 minutes of regular physical activity, such as walking or biking, into their daily schedule.

Photo by Dan Burden, Walkable Communities, Inc.

The trouble is that most of us live in postwar suburbs designed to make walking difficult, if not dangerous. Distances between home and work, home and school, home and shopping are too great. Four- and six-lane highways, engineered for automobiles and often without sidewalks, cut through our towns and subdivisions. Just crossing the road may well require that you get into your car. Many who live in such suburbs see no obvious reason to walk anywhere.

There is a reason, though; it has to do with health and welfare. For one thing, according to ASLA President Paul Morris, FASLA, the baby boomers are getting older, and although they may be driving farther today for shopping and errands (since 1969, 88 percent farther for shopping and 137 percent farther for family and personal errands, according to the Surface Transportation Policy Project), they’ll drive less as they age. Many will be unable to drive at all, and those trapped in unwalkable communities will lose their independence. “Seniors want to be able to walk comfortably and safely. A majority would prefer to age in place and live in downtowns where they have access to many things,” says Morris.

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