J300: News Writing and Reporting

Health Suffers in the Built Environment

“In my day, we would walk to and from school, uphill, both ways.”

What our parents tell us is true.  Thirty years ago, 66 percent of children walked or biked to school, compared to 13 percent as of 10 years ago, according to a New York Times Health blog post about the destructive impact of suburbia on modern health.  Our parents walked to school and they can expect to live longer for it.

In many towns, walking to school isn’t even an option because it’s far too dangerous given the prevalence of cars and traffic.  Why are there so many cars in the first place?  They’ve become a necessity.  Zoning laws prohibit shops and restaurants from operating in residential areas.  As a result, we have become stranded on the island of suburbia and the only way out is behind the wheel of an obnoxiously large gas-guzzler.

We are only beginning to understand how detrimental suburban living is to our physical and emotional wellbeing.  People are walking less and weighing more.  A lack of town centers creates disconnected communities.  Affordable housing projects are being pushed to the neglected parts of our cities and those areas with the greatest need for repair are being ignored.

Not all is lost, however.  The Smart Growth Network is encouraging “the development of vibrant, healthy communities” across the country.  Vision Long Island, a smart growth nonprofit, is one such organization that strives to build sustainable communities in what is a largely unsustainable situation.

It is clear that what may have worked in the 1950s is obsolete today.  The first step towards improving our communities is updating the zoning laws that hinder our ability to move forward.

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