nola.com - Streets and sidewalks built to share will lead to a healthier New Orleans
Thursday, Jun 6, 2019
Streets and sidewalks built to share will lead to a healthier New Orleans
By Molly Kimball and Kathleen Kennedy, guest columnists
Each year, 5 million people die from diseases that are connected to a lack of physical activity. How often have we been saddened and shocked by the news of a family member, friend, former classmate or colleague who has died unexpectedly of a heart attack or stroke? How often do we learn that someone who we know personally has been diagnosed with high blood pressure or diabetes? Too often!
Fortunately, these deaths and diagnoses are mostly preventable. When people engage in daily physical activity such as walking and biking, they reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and some types of cancer. A comprehensive “Complete Streets” policy promotes health within our neighborhoods.
Complete Streets policies create a more inclusive and integrated transportation network that balances the needs of all of its users in order to encourage healthier lifestyles, foster more livable communities and improve public safety. This approach also can promote geographic and socio-economic equity, stimulate economic development and develop a balanced street ecology for sustainability and resilience.
New Orleans is a city known for bringing people from around the world to the merriment of parading in the streets; it is essential that those same streets support its citizens.
Every neighborhood deserves equal access to sidewalks, walking paths and bike lanes. Some low-income communities and communities of color have lacked well-maintained routes to parks and schools or well-paved roads for decades. In many cases, they simply do not have transportation options at all.
The same neighborhoods often experience higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. We must make up for years of lost opportunities and make these neighborhoods a priority moving forward.
Neighborhood design features have been associated with health outcomes. People who live in communities with sidewalks, curb ramps, crosswalks and lighting get more physical activity each week than those who live in neighborhoods without these features. We all want and deserve to live in safe, healthy communities.
Comprehensive “complete streets” policies make communities and neighborhoods more livable by ensuring all people can get safely to where they need to go – work, school, the library, grocery stores, or parks. They also help people feel more connected to their neighbors, which improves quality of life. Our city has the most unique neighborhoods that weave together to make the rich fabric of New Orleans.
Now is the time to make a shift in the cultural norms to influence healthier choices for every New Orleanian and our future generations. These changes start to make the healthier choice the easier choice. Our community has been at the bottom of every good health list and the top of every bad one for far too long. It is time to change that direction.
We joined the American Heart Association’s board for one reason and that is to help our city to live longer, healthier lives. Health and safety are benefits that everyone should be entitled to. We need streets built to share.
We want to work in partnership to ensure that people have the opportunities to improve the quality of their lives. We care about the health and well-being of our neighbors and community. Do you? The health statistics are alarming for New Orleans, but it does not have to be. We can be the generation to make the changes to benefit the current and future New Orleans.
Molly Kimball is the board president and Dr. Kathleen Kennedy is the board chair for the American Heart Association of New Orleans.
See all articles in the News Archives