Just say no to suburbia!
65% of Americans are overweight and 31% are considered obese. Americans are eating more, but that they are also walking much less. The answer to why Americans do not walk places rests with public design.
Three-quarters of trips that are less than a mile are still made by car. This, however, is not just the fault of the typical American. Due to poor urban sprawl development, it is almost impossible for Americans to make journeys by foot in cities. They are either hindered by dangers such as a lack of sidewalk, or a six-lane mega highway with no way to cross. Spread-out neighborhoods on increasingly bigger lots result in greater walking distance for regular errands. It is also important to consider zoning, since it creates a separation and therefore distance between residential areas and the workplace, school, or shopping areas.
A large part of the growth of this lifestyle is due to the so-called “American Dream”. Homebuyers are trying to get away from dense living conditions, which is most conducive to walking for transportation. What Americans seem to strive for consists of living in a “suburban house in a bedroom community” with a few cars, including an SUV. This translates to excess time on the couch, and decreased time traveling by foot. As a result, people’s reactions to attempts to become walking friendly in cities have not been accepted. Americans tend to stick to traditional values, which does not include the European style of commuting-walking.
However, sidewalks will not be useful until the population is willing to accept them. People should be considering the environmental damage caused by construction projects like sidewalks. These cause runoff and habitat destruction. Perhaps the best plan of action at this point in time is educating the public on the dangers of their lifestyle and slowly introducing them to a walking based society, before we cause any more environmental destruction.
A pedestrian coordinator within communities to help plan and advise people on the matter would be a valid solution. However, many cities with the worst problems have no choice in the matter. They can’t work on other projects until they start working on the air quality in the area due to legislation. This could mean miles and miles of unneeded and potentially destructive sidewalks. Another potential solution is to start reforming environmental policies. Though I think they strive for good results, they are often presented in a poorly planned manner. With some more thought, they could be much more beneficial to society, rather than potentially destructive.
There is still hope in urban sprawl reform. Though people don’t seem to care about design of urban sprawl, the health risks and design of urban sprawl seems to be at the foundation of America’s obesity epidemic.
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