Planning & Development

Bad Zoning is Turning Your Kid Into a Porker

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by Josh Wood Monday June 1, 2009

Last week a group of America’s leading pediatricians released a policy statement directly linking city-building practices to the obesity epidemic in the nation’s kids.

The policy states that “an estimated 32% of American children are overweight,” and the key reason for this is physical inactivity. And “the positioning of homes, schools, businesses, parks, and sidewalks within a neighborhood can influence physical activity.” Suburban sprawl, like the kind in Western Cranston, requires more trips in the car. Homes, schools, parks and businesses are built so far apart that even the shortest trips to school, to the store and to the park aren’t within walking distance.

It’s this inactivity that’s contributing to the obesity in the children.

A well-designed neighborhood, on the other hand, is built with several key land-uses in mind. That neighborhood has houses, business, open space and schools all within close proximity. Residents in a well-designed neighborhood are more liable to walk and more apt to be physically fit. Seems to make sense.

The policy also cites the proximity to open space and parks as important factors in health of kids.

Building new communities that are less car dependent and making existing communities more dense are 2 strategies that can make it easier for people to walk to their destinations of daily life. Higher land-use mix encourages more utilitarian trips among residents and increases their ability to reach their destinations on foot rather than by automobile. Proximity of neighborhood shops to residences promotes trips on foot or by bicycle.[37–39] In addition to mixed-land use, other measures, such as higher residential density, smaller street blocks,[40,41] and access to sidewalks,[42,43] have been reported to translate to increased walking in adults. Increased urban sprawl, by which farther distance between destinations decreases walkability, has been associated with less physical activity and with more obesity in adults,[44,45] as well as higher automobile passenger and pedestrian fatality rates.

Photo is “Suburbia” by David Shankbone

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