Local News

Grants Aim To Improve Active Living Through Community Design

Posted July 22, 2004

— Many people blame a lack of physical activity on the obesity epidemic. For some people, the hurdles to exercise are in their own back yard.

Poorly designed communities, especially in low-income, minority neighborhoods, can keep people from enjoying a more active lifestyle. Chapel Hill planners are on the leading edge of solving the problem.

Chapel Hill's Southern Village is a pedestrian paradise. It is designed with high-density housing within safe walking distance of offices, stores and schools.

Half of the students at Mary Scroggs Elementary live in the community.

"Over 75 percent of them bike or ride to school on a given day. We think that that's an encouraging amount and one that we can use as an example in other communities," said David Bonk, Chapel Hill transportation planner.

Bonk wants to use Southern Village concepts in other parts of town; in places like Northside, a low income minority community where there are no sidewalks to link homes to schools, parks or other recreational facilities.

""Particularly, for children, the existence of sidewalks is going to be important for parents to feel safe in getting their kids out of the house and being more active," Bonk said. "If the kids don't feel safe then they'll just stay in the house and their summer just won't be as much fun."

Twenty-five cities across the country, including Chapel Hill, were chosen for a new program to increase physical activity. The $200,000 grants received through

Active Living by Design

are aimed at helping African-American communities.

Planners will use the money to remove barriers and includes making existing facilities safer -- like the bus stops on busy Airport Road.

"So at any given point in the day, we have 4,000 people either crossing the road to get to the bus stop or crossing at the end of their trip to get home," Bonk said.

The town is studying ways to make crossing Airport Road safer without impeding traffic, because public transit may be the only link for some people in this community to get to places where they can enjoy a more active lifestyle.

Crime is another barrier that keeps people from getting out and enjoying parks or other recreational facilities. Chapel Hill and the other cities chosen for this program are dealing with that issue, as well.

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