Have you ever heard of the “built environment?” Our built environment is what we create in the world around us. How we move about our environment is a direct response to the structures we have created. So if we create a world that is tailored to cars, speed, and automotive convenience, we naturally will drive everywhere…quickly, and avoid walking or biking to our destination because there may not be a safe route or any place to park your bike once you arrive. For years cars have been the priority rather than people.
Is it possible to change the culture of our community and help residents view the importance of reversing that priority?
I believe it is.
Our community is fortunate enough to have recently formed a wellness coalition, consisting of the schools, business representatives, and citizens who have a vested interest in helping bring wellness efforts to our community.
We see wellness as embodying so much more than just our physical health. In general, people often fail to consider all the other elements that also impact our overall wellness—professional, nutritional, recreational, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, environmental, financial… When we are truly well, we are consciously aware of the fact that each of these elements plays a role in creating the best version of ourselves, and any sort of disruption in one or more of these areas will undoubtedly be reflected in the other areas being out of balance as well.
The big picture is this impacts communities.
If we aren’t all playing our role in creating a positive experience for encouraging the health of everyone in the community, then the community will deteriorate.
One of the things our wellness coalition has been doing is working with Wellmark and their Healthy HometownSM initiative to begin to implement tools and techniques to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.” Like creating spaces that encourage social interaction and opportunities to make walking and biking safer and easier to get from place to place instead of always depending on cars.
One of the first steps in changing the built environment is to perform a walking audit in part of the area you intend to make a difference in. Our coalition recently did this, led by Wellmark, and many were surprised at what was brought to light.
When you look at your community while walking or biking and NOT from driving your car, it allows great insight on what is working and what needs improvement to make sure walking and biking is safe and easy!
By walking along the designated route, we were immediately able to experience the ease or struggle it takes to be a pedestrian in a busy part of our community. Our community leaders gained insight into what is working well for our community in terms of pedestrian and bike access along Highway 14 and what could be improved.
In our community, this highway is actually a main thoroughfare for access to many necessities like schools, groceries & jobs. If those essentials are not easy to access by foot or bike, how can we expect that our children see the importance in developing healthy habits when we aren’t creating healthy avenues for them to independently get to and from school safely? And how can we encourage those in all socioeconomic levels to take responsibility for their health and wellness when we aren’t providing safe & easy access to our food sources unless you have automotive transportation?
Likewise, with jobs…. give people an option to travel in a way other than by car, and they will take advantage. The simple act of creating safe routes to and from major industry and jobs instantly allows people the choice to consider different modes of transportation, like walking or biking to work.
This allows the option for individuals to be proactive with their health rather than reactive.
By providing options other than just for vehicles it enhances awareness of the environment around us and creates the opportunity live healthier, thus enhancing our wellness. Making a community more walkable invites people outside.
It gives them a reason to leave electronics and modern conveniences inside and move more outdoors or interact with others outdoors. It attracts potential residents to communities when they realize the opportunities for accessibility and recreation. It might even beautify a community by encouraging homeowners & businesses to plant trees and flowers along walking routes. All of these things, as I mentioned earlier, play a role in our overall wellness. They make us feel good and make us want to work together for a common cause…like making our environment a place where people want to live, work, and play.
How can you contribute to this movement in your town? You can play a role in this as well. Community members and businesses can gather together and perform a walking audit of their neighborhoods to see where the low-hanging fruit lie in terms of things they can easily work together to change to make walking and biking more accessible. There are many tools & checklists available online that can assist with this process.
Businesses can provide bike parking to show that they are bicycle-friendly and encourage other modes of travel. Homeowners can seek out opportunities that the city provides to work with them to help cover the cost of installing or repairing sidewalks so that there are more consistent walking paths throughout our town.
You can take the initiative to educate yourself on what it means to create a more livable community here!
There are also many programs out there that provide homeowners with free or low-cost trees to plant to help with wind control and to help lower energy costs–Arbor Day Foundation, Mid-American Energy’s Plant Some Shade & Trees Please!, & Alliant Energy’s Operation ReLeaf are just a few.
A community’s health and wellness journey begins with each of us, individually. We can then come together collectively to create a better community that fosters and promotes health and wellness.