Healthy people live in healthy places. It may sound trite, but it's true - and there's a mountain of data to back it up. So, just what is a "healthy community?" Simply put, it's a place that encourages interaction, exercise, eating healthy, and a sense of unity. That was the message delivered last week by an internationally-renowned expert on building healthy communities. Ed McMahon is a Senior Resident Fellow with the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The ULI studies and advocates responsible land use to create and sustain thriving communities.
McMahon diverted from his big city speaking schedule to share his message with a diverse group of community leaders right here in Coeur d'Alene. It was his first trip to North Idaho.
Sure, McMahon has a fancy title with an organization you've probably never heard of, but the ULI means business. Literally. And it all starts with creating the groundwork to build a healthy community.
"Many of today's chronic health problems are directly or indirectly related to our built environment," said McMahon. "Increased health and wellness starts with promoting a sense of community that provides ample opportunity for people to get out and be active."
Lake City Development Corporation Executive Director Tony Berns said it's a concept that fits perfectly with what the LCDC has focused on since its inception in 1997. The LCDC co-sponsored the ULI forum held at the Kroc community center.
"A lot of what we heard from Mr. McMahon reinforces what we (LCDC) are doing - promoting public/private partnerships to build a sense of community," Berns said.
The McEuen Park project and the Riverstone multi-use development are two of LCDC's larger projects.
McMahon said access to parks, green space and recreational facilities can also increase the value of adjacent property, and that supports the economy.
Building trends in the past created obstacles for activity: narrow sidewalks (or no sidewalks), sprawling communities that demand the use of cars, and too little green space. "We've designed physical activities out of our communities," McMahon said. "It's called a 'nature deficit.'"
Speaking to about 50 land use planners, developers, health officials, engineers, urban growth experts and city leaders, McMahon outlined 10 principles for building healthier places. Among those on the list was, "Make it Active."
Coeur d'Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer said promoting an active environment is an important part to building a healthier community - and it needs to start at a young age.
"If we want to build an active, healthy community we need to do a better job ... we need to get physical education back into our schools," the mayor said.
The ULI's 'Ten Principles for Building Health Places:'
1. Putting people first. Individuals are more likely to be active in a community designed around their needs.
2. Recognize economic value. Healthy places can create enhanced economic value for both the private and public sector.
3. Empower champions for health. Every movement needs its champions. (The LCDC has placed a high priority on working with health officials and the higher education sector support this principle and create jobs).
4. Energize shared spaces. Public gathering places have a direct, positive impact on human health.
5. Make healthy choices easy. Communities should make the healthy choice the one that is safe, accessible, fun and easy.
6. Ensure equitable access. Many segments of the population would benefit from better access to services, amenities and opportunities.
7. Mix it up. A variety of land uses, building types, and public spaces can be used to improve physical and social activities.
8. Embrace unique character. Places that are difference or unique can be helpful in promoting physical activity.
9. Promote access to healthy food. Access to healthy food should be considered as part of any development proposal.
10. Make it active. Urban design can be employed to create an active community.
For more information from the ULI on Building Healthy Places, visit: uli.org/health
Keith Erickson is communications consultant for the Lake City Development Corporation.