Last summer, while visiting my sister in the suburbs, I decided to take a walk with my new baby to a nearby store. “Nearby” meaning 2 miles away. Living in Brooklyn, a 2-mile walk isn’t a big deal. It often gets me where I’m going much faster than public transportation and at no cost. I thought the jaunt would be good exercise for me and a chance for my baby to get some fresh air.
I made it about half way there when I realized that there were train tracks to cross, and that the sidewalk had faded off into a lightly-used gravel path. Once I got across the tracks and back on the sidewalk, it was clear that whoever designed the roadway did not have pedestrians in mind. The sidewalks were just a few feet away from the multiple lane road with a speed limit that exceeded my comfort level. I hugged the grassy strip on the far side of the sidewalk and pressed on. But it was only after I’d almost reached my destination that I noticed the store I was going to was on the other side of the street – and there were no crosswalks within a quarter mile. I backtracked to the nearest crosswalk and then scurried through the parking lot, which had no pedestrian walkways at all, to the store.
It was clear that someone had it in for those who are car-less or might be inclined to take a walk on a beautiful summer day.
The sad reality is that many of our cities are built this way: with cars in mind while people are ignored. It’s called an “obesogenic environment” and it may be what’s making you fat.
Think about it: Can you walk to the store? To the library? To a park? Are there safe bike lanes and walking paths nearby? If not, your neighborhood may subtly and unintentionally be encouraging you to sit around all day, which, we know, kills. If your neighborhood makes it easy to gain weight and hard to lose, it’s obesogenic.
Studies have shown that small changes in local infrastructure, like well-maintained walking paths and bike lanes or access to fitness facilities, can encourage greater activity and promote healthier lifestyles. But what if your neighborhood just isn’t built that way? Aside from petitioning your city for walking paths or safe sidewalks, you can make small changes in your own habits, like parking farther away from your destination, taking the stairs, or getting up from your desk to walk around for a few minutes every hour.
As for my family, you can bet that wherever we live, we’ll be looking for walkable neighborhoods with lots of places to run around and play.